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UCL Public Engagement Blog



From Provost’s Award to brain imaging in rural Gambia: Interview with Clare Elwell

By Briony Fleming, on 21 January 2019

This is an interview with Claire Elwell, as part of our series focusing on the Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement, looking at previous winners and their experiences with Public Engagement. Claire won a Provost’s Award for Public Engagement in 2012 in the category ‘Established Career Academic/Research’

What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m a Professor of Medical Physics in the Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering. I lead a research group developing new methods for imaging the brain and I’m currently running the BRIGHT (Brain Imaging for Global Health) project in Africa to understand the impact of malnutrition on infant brain development

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I’ve been at UCL for 28 years! Prior to that I worked as a clinical physicist in the NHS.

You have previously won one of the Provost’s Award for Public Engagement here at UCL, what project was that for?
I won a Provost’s Award in 2012 for my work engaging a range of audiences with medical physics and bio-engineering. This included leading an exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition and doing stand-up comedy as part of the Bright Club, Science Show Off and Pint of Science.

Has winning the award changed things for you?
The award was a good opportunity to show how UCL values public engagement and it opened my eyes to the huge range of activities that are being undertaken by staff and students across the college. It’s also been great to encourage other members of my department to get involved. One of my colleagues, Ilias Tachtsidis has set up a brilliant initiative called Metabolight which is developing really innovative ways to show how light can be used to diagnose and monitor brain injury in newborn infants.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list
I’m really proud of my BRIGHT team who have set up an open day at the field station in rural Gambia where we are running our brain imaging studies. They worked with the African field staff to put together activities to engage families from the local community. They are now planning to roll these activities out at range of events and festivals in the next few months. Their work is a great example of cutting across cultural boundaries and thinking really carefully about how to engage with different audiences.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Depends on which day you’re asking. Today it would be Paloma Faith’s Fall from Grace, Little Miss Sunshine and Far From the Madding Crowd.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
Schrödinger gets pulled over by the police for speeding. The officer looks over the car and asks if there’s anything in the boot. “A cat” replies Schrödinger. The officer opens the boot and says “This cat is dead”. Schrödinger sighs and says “It is now”.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?
My Irish grandmother – I miss her pearls of wisdom

What advice would you give your younger self?
Be bolder

What would it surprise people to know about you?
I’ve been on a fear of flying course

What is your favourite place?
Anywhere I can do some open water swimming


You can read more about the Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement, including seeing previous winners, on our website. You can also read about fellow previous Provost’s Award winner, Sophie Scott in this week’s Spotlight On… 

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