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Medical imaging with light, sound and sugar (!) at the Royal Summer Science Exhibition

Thomas A Roberts9 July 2014

Have you ever broken a bone and been for an MRI scan? Perhaps your dentist has interrogated your fillings with an14520757366_9435d47805 x-ray of your jaw. Or maybe you’ve seen a baby curled in its mother’s womb on an ultrasound machine. Medical imaging has revolutionised our lives to the point where we can see inside our bodies with incredible clarity. But now a new wave of imaging techniques is coming.

Now, we can use light to illuminate deep inside our bodies to see individual, microscopic cells dividing. We can use sound to generate exquisitely detailed images of blood vessels. And, we can even use sugar to make tumours within our bodies glow.

At this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, held last week, my colleagues and I from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABI) exhibited the next generation of techniques that we are developing in our lab which push the boundaries of what we can see inside the human body. Having conquered the Cheltenham Science Festival, the CABI team showcased  a completely new exhibition.

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Going out with a Bang – Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham – Day 6/6

Thomas A Roberts18 June 2012

Brain Scan Live Lineup

The Brain Scan Live offenders line up

Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham is a daily blog from the UCL CABI team at Cheltenham Science Festival. Every day, a member of the team will be talking about their experiences of running a stand.

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 |

Orchestrating and conducting a live MRI scan for an audience of more than 600 people is very hard. Very, very hard.

On the penultimate day, our boss and director of the Festival, Mark Lythgoe, phoned me. He was due to present a show the following day titled Brain Scan Live: Lies and Deception, and he wanted me to take an integral role behind the scenes.

The idea of the show was to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to demonstrate that your brain doesn’t lie when presented with images that evoke a memorable response.

I was primarily tasked with constructing a crime scene where a volunteer from the audience would commit theft. The participant would then be taken to the nearby Cobalt Imaging Centre where they would be presented with pictures of the crime scene while undergoing an fMRI scan. In theory, photos from the crime scene would evoke a strong ‘lighting-up’ of the brain in the scans whereas photos of unfamiliar rooms would have little effect.

The first challenge was finding a room for the crime scene: we located a small office in the Cheltenham Town Hall. There was a distinct sense of irony when I had to explain to a stranger that I was rearranging her office and sifting through her desk drawers for a science experiment.

Despite her raised eyebrows, I convinced her I was telling the truth. Quickly I set about rearranging the room and planting some visual cues designed to evoke the volunteer’s recognition response during the scan. These included some crates of Coke cans, a mask replete with glowing green hair, some deliberately placed indoor plants, a dirty plate and a giant foam thumb pointing at the bounty. Furiously I photographed the office along with another four different control rooms before bed.

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Chasing Vince – Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham – Day 4/6

Thomas A Roberts16 June 2012

Vince Cable speaking

MP Vince Cable giving a speech

Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham is a daily blog from the UCL CABI team at Cheltenham Science Festival. Every day, a member of the team will be talking about their experiences of running a stand.

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 |

8:07am:
“Tom. Tom! Wake up Tom!”
Ugh…
“Vince Cable’s arriving at 8:30!”

And with that, I’m scrambling for my trousers, trainers, and t-shirt, and I’m out of the door.

For the past four days I’ve been taking pictures at the Cheltenham Science Festival on behalf of the organisers. I’ve been snapping children having fun with the various bonkers interactive stands, the CABI stall and yesterday I was snapping the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts.

Another day, another politician, but today was different: the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, had arrived for a whirlwind tour of the Festival, and he was 30 minutes early. This was not a photo-opportunity to be missed.

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Three eggs, two eyeballs and one Minister of Science – Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham – Day 3/6

news editor15 June 2012

Katy Ordidge and David Willetts

Katy Ordidge gives a speech alongside David Willetts

  Katy Ordidge, UCL CABI

Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham is a daily blog from the UCL CABI team at Cheltenham Science Festival. Every day, a member of the team will be talking about their experiences of running a stand.

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6

What a day in the Discover Zone! Today, we were surprised by a visit from the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts.

I was chosen to represent the Discover Zone and talk to Mr Willetts about why we love communicating science with kids. I started by debunking some myths around MRI scanners: just for the record folks, there is no harmful radiation in MRI scanning, and it’s completely safe (as long as you don’t walk in to the scanner room with any metallic objects!).

After my speech and a whirlwind tour, Mr Willetts was off again and I returned to our stand, where today we were scanning some new delights, other than just fruit and veg… (more…)