Nottingham University's annual event for Brain Awareness week was the perfect trip for neuroscience. This started with some very interesting lectures on Schizophrenia and brain development, followed by interactive activities covering topics such as emotions, memory, navigation, gambling and multi- sensory illusions. As well as a tour of a technologically advanced facility (i.e. NITES- the Nottingham Integrated Transport and Environment Simulation) lab.
The event kicked off with various different demonstrations that provided us with an interactive introduction to neural anatomy and function. Until this point, I don't think I had ever fully appreciated the brain for all its complexity and functions. Did you know that scientists still aren't sure about how the brain actually works? The closest they've come to answering that question so far is by performing many MRI and CT scans to get a good idea about which parts of the brain are associated with which disease or emotional state etc. This is precisely what we learned with the help of a few practical demonstrations exploring these ideas and a look at the latest state-of-the-art 3D brain visualization software. We also learned about the complexity of mental illness with reference to Schizophrenia- one of the few most varied mental illnesses known to man. We discovered the different parts of the brain associated with symptoms of Schizophrenia and what possible causes could lead to the mental illness, all of which are extremely variable depending on the individual.
Following this kick-starter, we were given a hands-on tour of NITES, the Nottingham Integrated Transport and Environment Simulation. Nothing could have prepared me for just how cool this was. For the gamer-girl inside me, this was definitely the biggest highlight. Imagine an accurate 3D simulation of Nottingham on a gigantic screen at your fingertips- and you get to cycle or drive through it! Oh yes, we are talking serious gaming potential here people. But in all seriousness, let's take a look at the research side of this advanced technology for a moment. NITES has received immense amounts of funding from many different agencies to carry out research projects with regards to driving and cycling. With it being one of the most accurate on-the-road simulations out there, NITES is where both motorists and cyclists are put to the test. Whether it's concerning how well you drive the morning after a night out or the effectiveness of Bluetooth devices, NITES is where these questions are answered in the safest and most accurately-real-life environment.
After the tour of this potentially-awesome-gaming-platform, we went through a series of interactive activities organised by PhD students with many different themes ranging from memory, gambling, multi-sensory illusions and brain communication. Ever wanted to lift an object with the power of your mind? Well now you can, with the Star Wars Force Trainer- a simplified version of EEG technology. EEG (electroencephalography) is a method that enables us to record signals from the surface of the brain in response to what we see, hear, touch and even think. This advanced technology is extremely useful for developing our understanding of how various cells in the brain communicate with each other so that we can see, hear, touch and think in the way that we do. Unlike the Star Wars Force Trainer, the real EEG is very sensitive, and so is encased in a box (quite like a really small room) with thick metal walls that keep out all signals which will interfere with the results obtained from the EEG. Pretty cool right?
Well this is exactly what a group of A-level psychology and biology students (including myself) got to experience this year (Big thanks to Mrs Gunn!). Look like something you might be interested in? Then keep your eyes peeled for the next annual Brain Awareness Week Event in 2016 hosted by the University of Nottingham. See you there!