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UCL events news and reviews


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

By Thomas A Roberts, on 9 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.


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

By Thomas A Roberts, on 18 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.


Treading on Eggshells – Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham – Day 5/6

By Nicholas Powell, on 17 June 2012

MRI Cherry

The cherry on top!

By Isabel Christie

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

The Cheltenham Science Festival is drawing to a close and fatigue is beginning to take its toll on the team. As members of the team return home and our numbers dwindle or others lose their voices, we are becoming increasingly desperate when a new group of eager five year olds appear on the horizon. Attempting to explain quantum physics to primary school children has a lasting effect on your morale! However, we remain resilient: the stall is ever popular and today was filled with many magic moments.

Our favourite family returned to scan their home laid eggs. Two days ago, they brought along three eggs of different ages to see whether the yolks grew as the eggs aged. Only, the family arrived to discover that we had cracked one egg because they were too large for the scanner bore!

We thought harder about how to scan the eggs and began carefully removing the eggs shells with the aid of cling film and penknives. Finally, victorious, we managed to scan one egg; we actually broke the second egg in the careful process mentioned previously. We encouraged our new friends that this was the nature of science and that experiments often failed in real labs!


As it was a Saturday, there were many more families today and some children from previous school trips returned for a second attempt at the much loved ‘Guess the Fruit?’ game. One mother guessed the toughest of all slides, the physalis, which was very impressive.

We also had a visit from a young girl who suffered from epilepsy and was due to have an MRI scan next month. We told her all about it and what to expect to allevieate any anxieties she might be having. We actually met many people who knew very little about MRI, many of whom thought they were harmful like x-rays, so hopefully we have been successful in communicating how valuable MRI is.

Finally, the cherry on top was some more excellent scanning! Today we scanned a sardine, walnut, lychee, cherry and even some Lego (to help calibrate the scanner)! Come back tomorrow for our final entry.

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

By Thomas A Roberts, on 16 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 |

“Tom. Tom! Wake up Tom!”
“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.