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UCL events news and reviews


UCL Neuroscience Symposium 2014: an overview

By ucyow3c, on 2 July 2014

pencil-iconWritten by Jack Moore, BSc student at St Mary’s University

With over 800 people attending and almost 200 posters being presented, there was a real sense of excitement around the halls of the Institute of Education (IoE) where the 5th annual UCL Neuroscience symposium was held on 19 June.

James Rothman

Professor James Rothman

With so many people at the event, and so much being presented, it was a great opportunity to discover what other researchers have been doing and share thoughts on the latest developments. Over the years the event has only got bigger, with the entry queue this year winding all the way up the stairs of the IoE.

The day began with last year’s Nobel Prize winner, Professor James Rothman (Yale University), giving a thought-provoking opening keynote speech on how calcium controls neurotransmitter release to a packed auditorium of both students and staff. As Professor Rothman is a Professorial Research Associate in the UCL Institute of Neurology, it seemed a fitting way to begin a symposium in which such a diverse and successful domain get a chance to come together and learn about what is being achieved by different institutes and laboratories.

After the applause for Professor Rothman had quietened down, everyone finally had a chance to see all 180 posters on offer at the event. Dr Martine Groen, who was on the panel deciding this year’s Laboratory Poster Prize, told me the winning poster would have to be one that was nice to read and walk through, making clear what the research question is and why it is interesting.


Whatcha guvnor: inside the mind of a London cabbie

By Clare S Ryan, on 28 November 2013

London’s black taxis – or cabs – are as iconic as Big Ben, red buses and the London Eye, so it was no surprise to arrive to a packed audience at Dr Hugo Spiers’s (UCL Cognitive, Perceptual & Brain Sciences) Lunch Hour Lecture on 21 November.

The lecture was a whistle stop tour of the brains of a London cabbie, famously studied by UCL neuroscientists for more than 15 years.

London cabbies – what’s the big deal?
The Great Exhibition of 1851 gave birth to the London cabbie as we know it: the deficiency of the taxi service at the time became widely publicised and, in response, the first test for London’s taxi drivers was devised, called the London Knowledge.

Today, drivers who can complete ‘the Knowledge’ are able to perform amazing feats of memory multiple times a day. To pass the test, they must memorise more than 25,000 streets and one thousand sites of interest so that they can mentally map the route from any point in London to any other.

Learning the knowledge takes three years (similar to a UCL undergraduate degree) and the exam is rarely passed first time.

As a result of this gruelling training, the brains of cabbies are of particular interest to neuroscientists, as they can be used to study lots of interesting questions, such as does special memory change the shape of cabbies’ brains? How does the brain navigate space? And, fundamentally, how does memory work?


Queen Square Symposium

By news editor, on 27 March 2012

Ana Carolina Saraiva (ACS), a first year PhD student at the Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience and Movement Disorders, and Xun Yu Choong (XYC), a first year student on the four-year PhD programme in Clinical Neuroscience, report on the 13th Queen Square Symposium, held on 16 March.

What began as a small event over a decade ago has developed to become the primary student-led conference in Queen Square (QS).

The QS Symposium is organised by students for students, bringing them together across departments, and aims to provide a platform to showcase the diversity of scientific research carried out in the UCL Institute of Neurology. The format for this was presenting posters about research projects.

This year showcased a variety of high-quality research, ranging from cognitive to clinical studies of neuroscience and neurology. How does the menstrual cycle affect perception of emotional faces? Are enlarged perivascular spaces on MRI a new imaging window for cerebral small vessel diseases?

This was an opportunity for the bright minds of the future to show us what they’ve got!


The Search for Genius: Einstein’s Brain

By news editor, on 15 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?”