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The Search for Genius: Einstein’s Brain

news editor15 March 2012

Dr Mark Lythgoe (UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging) took the audience of his Lunch Hour Lecture on 13 March on a journey to explore the greatest brain of the 20th century. The lecture to mark Brain Awareness Week drew in a large crowd; potentially explained by the promise of seeing a real brain!

The journey began with a video clip of Dr Lythgoe and Dr Jim Al-Khalili from the programme The Riddle of Einstein’s Brain (Channel 4, National Geographic USA, 2005). The two presenters were getting into a red convertible in southern California and setting off in search of the brain of Albert Einstein.

The presenters could not agree, however, on where genius originates from and consequently where it can be found. Is genius determined by biology and therefore can Einstein’s brain show us how? Or is genius a culturally dependent term that lives in the ideas produced?

Dr Lythgoe threw the question to the audience: “Did Einstein need to have published his work to be considered a genius? Or if he had done exactly the same amount of work and drawn the same conclusions, but never published, would he still be a genius?”

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Aufwiedersehen Cheltenham

Frances-Catherine Quevenco15 June 2011

Bags unpacked and a new stack of unread copies of Eureka magazine added to my collection, I look back fondly on my week at the Cheltenham Science Festival. From the beautiful scenery of the English countryside, to my fellow bursary students, to the many intriguing science talks and interactive zones, there is nothing I would not happily do again.

Alongside the many talks held at the festival there were also plenty interactive science activities for young, old, and those somewhere in the middle. My favourite in particular was the “Who wants to be a Science Presenter?” activity in the BBC Science tent, where the Brian Coxes of tomorrow could have a go at presenting a little bit of science of their own and to make things more realistic you were given props, a fake earpiece, and a camera filming you live.

The Discovery Zone in the Town Hall was also a haven of fun and learning. I recall standing wide-eyed amidst a group of fifth graders watching a scientist from Liverpool University demonstrate how to make water into dry powder. I also loved the idea of the Talking Point tent that allowed the audience members and the speakers to congregate, ask questions and lead discussions outside of the lecture. I felt that this made science seem more accessible, especially since the speakers were so open to answering questions.
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Science, politics and sport…..

Katherine Aitchison9 June 2011

Science Question Time is a brilliant feature of the festival where three or four speakers take time out from participating in their own session or chilling out in the green room to answer the public’s questions. I’ve been to two of these sessions now and they’ve both covered vastly different topics. The topics covered depend partly on the specialties of the panel but are also largely dictated by the interests of the audience as this really is your chance to ask the scientists anything. Tuesday’s session covered the robotics of warfare and the ethics of using drones to attack human soldiers, the cyclical nature of science reporting (apparently even the journalists are aware that they write the same stories year on year) and the factors involved in life expectancy.

Today, Question Time was chaired by Mark Lythgoe, director of both UCL’s Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging and the Cheltenham Festival. The discussion focussed more on the ethics around enhancing human biology and also the politics of science. The guests on the panel were Andy Miah, Professor of Ethics at the University of the West of Scotland, Mark Henderson, science editor for the Times newspaper, and Steve Haake, Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University.
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