The Brain Bank is run by a group of biologists from the University of Manchester, all of whom share a desire to communicate the amazing complexities of science with anyone interested enough to listen. We hope to tear down the ivory tower and convince everyone that science is not just for scientists!
Meet the Brain Bank Team:
Tell us a little about your work: I am currently in my final year studying neuroscience at Manchester University. I chose neuroscience because I had always wanted to understand more about the brain and how it controls everything we do. My course involves many different aspects of neurobiology from how drugs affect the brain to what areas are involved in how we move and learn. It is an exciting subject to be studying because we are discovering new things all the time – so it never gets boring!
What were your favourite subjects at school and why?: My favourite subjects at school were psychology and biology. I found the case studies we explored about psychological disorders really interesting, and I loved all the dissecting labs in science class.
What first attracted you to science?: I first became interested in science when I began reading in newspapers and magazines about all of the research that is constantly going on all around the world and how much it is doing to help our understanding of everything that exists. I found it fascinating and wanted to know more!
Tell us your most interesting science fact or funniest science joke: It has recently been estimated that every cell contains enough genetic information to fill 1,000 books each 600 pages long. And considering we have trillions of cells in our body, that is a lot of DNA!
Tell us a little about your work: My PhD research was into how the brain deals with having a stroke, and how inflammation can make brain damage from a stroke worse. I used a special imaging technique called optical imaging to measure how blood flow in the brain changes after a stroke.
Tell your most interesting science fact/funniest science joke: A virus walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘We don’t serve viruses here’. The virus infects the bartender and says, ‘Now we do’.
What first attracted you to science?: I was very lucky to have some really excellent science teachers at school, and then I was AMAZED by Matt Ridley’s Nature via Nuture (genetics isn’t that scary after you read that). At school I had to do an ‘extended research essay’ and, for whatever reason, I chose to (try to) write an essay on the (myriad) possible causes of schizophrenia. When writing about (/not even scratching the surface of) the different theories behind schizophrenia, I was stunned by the sheer complexity of the brain and by the fact that so many questions remain unanswered.
Sarah Fox @FoxWoo84
Tell us a little about your work: I study the region of the brain where memories are formed, the hippocampus. I’m interested in how, like a drummer in a band, the activity of cells in this brain region keep a certain rhythm. This rhythm ensures that details of an event, like a sound and a smell, are linked together and joined as a single memory. My current Ph.D work focusses on how this intrinsic rhythm may be altered during Alzheimer’s disease and what implications this has on memory formation.
What is your geekiest secret?: I must admit I have a fair number of ‘geeky’ secrets. But probably one of the most embarrassing is that I’m a big fan of anime and manga (Japanese cartoons and comics) and have been to a few parties/conventions in cosplay (look that one up!). I like to think I have been careful enough to ensure no pictures exist, but you never know there may be some very embarrassing snaps lurking out there in the either.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?: I’m generally the type of person who always likes to be busy, so I keep myself occupied with a fair number of hobbies, ranging from crocheting to cycling. However my favourite ‘out of lab’ activity, other than writing, is hiking and I take every opportunity I can to take myself away somewhere green.
What is the most exciting aspect of your research?: Like so many scientists, I’m attracted to the possibilities inherent in working at the edge of our understanding. I like the almost romantic notion that every stone we turn adds to the jigsaw of current knowledge. Although the thrill of new discovery is often balanced by the frustration of attempting to make sense of these discoveries, the way the knowledge unfolds is always a very exciting process!
Oliver Freeman @ojfreeman
Tell us a little about your work: My research looks into the effects of diabetes on the nervous system. Diabetes is nearly 4 times as common as all types of cancer combined and around half of those with diabetes have nerve damage (known as diabetic neuropathy). Most people are not aware of this very common condition and I am trying to increase awareness of the disorder and understand what causes diabetic patients to feel increased pain and numbness/tingling in their hands/feet.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?: My work aims to discover new ways to diagnose patients with diabetes and nerve damage. The Holy Grail would be to produce a simple blood test which will tell your doctor the severity or likelihood of you developing diabetic neuropathy. For now, it means analysing lots of molecules in the body to try to find one (or more) that are particularly affected in diabetic neuropathy.
What first attracted you to science?: I’m not entirely sure really – I think I just fell into it! I liked the diverse nature of science; my days always consist of many different aspects and I’m never sat doing the same task for too long at a time.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?: I love keeping fit by playing football and squash. I also like to cycle around pretending I am Bradley Wiggins – the sideburns are taking a while to perfect.
Elizabeth Granger @bio_fluff
Tell us a little about your work: I work on a protein called dynein. It’s a motor protein, which means it can move things around inside our cells. Despite being miniscule – just about visible under an electron microscope – dynein has two legs which walk around a network of tiny tubes inside our cells. My research focuses on how dynein is controlled and what makes it grab hold of a cargo and start moving it around.
What first attracted you to science: I was about 10 watching Dexter’s Lab. I thought; Dexter’s cool, his lab is bitchin’ and he’s rocking a kick-ass boots/purple nitrile glove/lab coat combo. What a dude. I’m going to be a scientist like Dexter. I’ve made most of my life decisions based on cartoons since.
Tell your most interesting science fact/funniest science joke: Did you hear about the biologists who had just had twins? They baptised one and kept the other as a control.
What is your geekiest secret?: I own and have played hero quest. Google it; you’ll be jealous.
Tell us a little about your work: My research involves looking at how fruit fly larva smell and process complex odours from their environment. Currently, we know how single component odours are perceived in the larval brain, but little work has been carried out into how complex multi-component odours are processed. Since most odours in the environment are complex, it is important to address this. Currently there are several theories regarding the perception of these complex odours, which I aim to address by using a combination of behavioural techniques, and by measuring the activity of neurons in the brain.
Tell us your most interesting science fact or funniest science joke: This isn’t really a funny science joke, or the most fascinating fact, but I thought it was interesting! Biology is the only discipline where multiplication means the same thing as division.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?: I love spending my spare time reading, there is nothing quite like getting lost in a good book! My favourite author at the moment is Matthew Reilly, and I am also partial to a bit of JK Rowling! I like to go shopping when I have some spare time, and love going to the cinema with my friends. I also volunteer for a charity, and love looking after my two guinea pigs!
What were your favourite subjects at school and why?: I was a bit of a nerd at school and enjoyed most of my subjects, although I would have to admit that my favourite subject was surprisingly geography. This was mainly because I had a great teacher who was really charismatic and was really funny!
Tell us a little about your work: All of your movements are coordinated by your brain. Without a system of coordination you would be unable to do any task as simple as writing or kicking a ball. Learning and remembering these movement patterns is directed by a part of the brain known as the basal ganglia, which I study using a technique that allows us to see how individual neurons communicate with one another.
Tell us your most interesting science fact or funniest science joke: Did you know that fully one quarter of all the cells in your body are red blood cells? And that your body produces three million red blood cells every second?
What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?: Running and swimming a lot. And football is important too. I used to watch many films and play many games but I don’t have as much free time these days!
What do you think has been the most influential scientific breakthrough in your lifetime?: If faster-than-light neutrinos are confirmed, that’ll be the biggest scientific breakthrough for some time. Anything that challenges Einstein’s theories is BIG. A lot of very smart people are scratching their heads at the moment.
Claire Scofield @clairescofe
Tell us a little about your work: My research is investigating how brain activity is disrupted in schizophrenia. To study this, we induce a schizophrenia-like state in rats by administering ketamine or similar drugs. The behavioural effects are thought to be analogous to the human response to ketamine: a psychotic state similar to schizophrenia. In rats, under anaesthetic it is possible to record the activity of brain cells in different regions of the brain, and look at activity across the whole brain using an MRI scanner. This also means we can look at how communication between different regions of the brain is disrupted by ketamine. Once we see ways in which brain activity is altered in the psychotic state, it is also possible to investigate the effects of anti-psychotic drugs on these changes.
What first attracted you to science?: Well I just read the quote “Science is just magic without the lies” and completely agreed so I think it was just curiosity. Especially when it comes to the brain – trying to work out how things work and how things go wrong in the brain to produce diseases fascinates me.
Tell us your most interesting science fact or funniest science joke: I’m going to apologise for this before writing it, but…One lab rat to his cage-mate: “I’ve got my scientist so well-trained he brings me a treat whenever I press the bar”
What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?: When I’m not in the lab I’ve recently started kick-boxing as a very good stress-reliever! I also play netball and I like going to see any type of music (well almost), especially if it involves spending a few days in a muddy field!
Louise Walker @thinkscientific
Tell us a little about your work: I do research on Endosomes which are involved in something called receptor downregulation. Each cell in the body has a number of receptors attached to its outer surface. These receptors receive signals from elsewhere in the body and relay the message through the cell to give a response, e.g. the cell will grow. Endosomes are like little pockets within the cell and they remove the receptors from the cell surface by “eating” them. This brings the receptor inside the cell and the endosome delivers it to another compartment which destroys the redundant receptor. This is important because if the signal is kept going when it is not required then something can go wrong with the cell, e.g. they can grow out of control, leading to cancer. My work involves trying to understand the roles of various proteins found in cells which help the endosomes function.
What were your favourite subjects at school and why?: My favourite subject was unsurprisingly Biology, as I found it continually fascinating, especially what happens inside us. I also really liked English, as I love to read and analyse (maybe that’s got something to do with the science?) but also it allowed me to flex my creative muscles, which I really enjoyed.
What first attracted you to science?: I loved finding out about how everything worked and how everything has evolved to work together, both within one organism and how different organisms and animals rely on each other. As a researcher, I liked the idea of making my little contribution to our understanding of how something works, even if it’s not the greatest breakthrough ever! I also like the idea of what I call “behind the scenes” work. Without dedicated scientific researchers, we wouldn’t have many of the treatments and cures for illnesses that we take for granted now.
Tell us your most interesting science fact or funniest science joke: This is a pretty bad one but it’s probably the funniest one I know. Two electrons are walking down the street. One turns to the other and says “Oh dear, I think I’ve just reversed polarity!” The second says “Are you sure?” and the first one replies, “Yes, I’m positive!”
The Scouse Science Alliance @scousescience
Meet our new friends and collaborators the Scouse Science Alliance: “The Scouse Science Alliance is a blog run by PhD students and researchers from the University of Liverpool. We love talking about the excitement and intrigue science offers, without the boring technical jargon! Focusing mainly on Biology, we’ll bring you all manner of exciting scientific news, views, tales and titbits every week.” – We will be sharing monthly posts with our scouse neighbours and you can find more of their entertaining work here!
Follow us on twitter @brainbankmanc