Congratulations to Unit scientist Dr Andrew Sharott on being awarded the title of Associate Professor by the University of Oxford.

Associate Professor titles are conferred annually in recognition of an individual’s distinction in their field as well as their contributions to research, teaching and administration.

Unit Director Professor Peter Brown commented “I have known Andrew since he was a Ph.D. student, and it has been most gratifying to see his career flourish over the years. Andrew is a truly versatile and inspired researcher, and this award is richly deserved.”

Over two weeks in July and August, the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit again hosted 5 school pupils enrolled on an innovative work-experience placement scheme that was organised in partnership with the charity in2scienceUK.

The placement scheme was tailored for pupils from local state-funded schools to support their progress into university degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). During their time in the Unit, the pupils worked alongside Unit scientists and received personalised mentoring to gain a wide variety of practical experiences as well as to learn more about key concepts and challenges in neuroscience, medical research, and the use of animals in scientific procedures. In a series of integrated workshops with in2scienceUK, the pupils also received guidance on university applications, wider information about STEM careers, and training in transferable skills. The pupils recorded their experiences and progress in blogs and images.

Building on the successes of the inaugural work-experience scheme pioneered by the Unit in 2016, this year’s placement programme in Oxford was extended to 30 pupils, hosted in labs across nine Departments and two Divisions at the University.

Deputy Director Professor Peter Magill commented “Another great fortnight working with the pupils and our in2scienceUK partners. We are delighted by the growth of the scheme in its second year at Oxford. The enthusiasm and uptake by the University’s wider research community has been fantastic. Engaging local school pupils is a priority for the Unit’s thriving Outreach Programme, and it has been a pleasure to lead on widening access and participation in STEM.”

Earlier this month, Unit scientist Dr. Helen Barron took her research to the streets of Oxford as part of an outreach event run in partnership with Soapbox Science, a novel public engagement platform that focuses on promoting women scientists and the science they do.

The event paired scientists with artists, encouraging them to work together to communicate challenging scientific concepts in new and exciting ways. A public space within Oxford was transformed into an arena where members of the public could take the opportunity to learn from, interact with, and question the scientists. Helen worked with musician Natasha Zielazinski and, together, they used music and song to communicate how memories are stored in the brain and expressed at the time of recall. Helen’s descriptions of her own research were interleaved with musical sessions in which audience members were invited to play the part of ‘neurons’. As neurons, the audience members used clapping and song to transfer information between themselves. This illustrated how electrical signals are passed between neurons, but also showed how ensembles of neurons can work together to support memory.

Helen commented “The event was great fun - it provided an opportunity for me to explore novel ways to communicate my research to the general public. Our audience were eager to hear about neuroscience research, to ask questions, and engage in debate. Soapbox Science events such as this one provide a great platform to raise the profile of female scientists, and I would encourage other scientists to get on a soapbox and try it for themselves!”

We are pleased to announce that the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit is partnering again with the award-winning charity in2scienceUK to support a unique work-experience placement scheme for local school pupils who are considering higher education and careers in science, technology and engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

This year’s placement scheme builds on the successes of the inaugural pilot scheme that was co-devised and hosted by the Unit in 2016, as part of its flourishing Outreach Programme. This summer, the Unit will again host 5 pupils from state-funded schools across the city of Oxford. During their time in the Unit, the pupils will receive personalised mentoring from Unit scientists, and will be given opportunities to gain a wide variety of practical experiences as well as exposure to key concepts and challenges in neuroscience and medical research. In a series of integrated workshops with in2scienceUK, the pupils will also receive guidance on University applications, wider information about STEM careers, and training in transferable skills.

Unit Deputy Director Professor Peter Magill commented “We are delighted to be working again with in2scienceUK. Last year’s placement scheme - a first for Oxford - was a huge success, and we are pleased to have paved the way for increased uptake of the scheme across the University this summer. We look forward to playing our part in widening access and participation in STEM.”

The progress and activities of our in2scienceUK placement students can be followed on our Twitter account.

Our congratulations go to Unit D.Phil. student Anna-Kristin Kaufmann for successfully defending her doctoral thesis, entitled “Functional Properties of the Intact and Compromised Midbrain Dopamine System”, in her viva voce examination on 7th July 2017.

Anna’s examiners were Professor Ian Duguid (Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh) and Dr Mark Walton (Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford).

Anna was supervised by Dr Paul Dodson, Professor Peter Magill and Professor Paul Bolam.

Congratulations to Unit administrative staff member Mrs Savita Anderson on winning the Director’s Award for Public Engagement for 2017.

The Award is given annually, on the basis of nominations made by Unit members, to recognise and celebrate the exemplary contributions of an individual or small collective to the Unit’s extensive Outreach Programme.

Savita received her Award from Unit Director Professor Peter Brown at a special ceremony held at the Unit’s biannual Science Day.

Professor Brown commented “It gives us all great pleasure to reward Savita in this way. Savita has played key roles in organising the Unit’s public engagement activities over the last 2 years, and the success and impact of these activities stem from Savita’s energy, enthusiasm and logistics skills. This Award clearly reflects that Savita’s colleagues really value the first-class support that she gives them.”

The Unit held its fifth Science Day on Friday 30th June 2017. Ongoing and future research projects were the focus of discussion, and Unit members and visitors eagerly took the opportunity to give the constructive feedback that is needed to support collaboration and to foster cutting-edge research.

There were 14 short talks and 9 poster presentations, most of which were given by the Unit’s early-career scientists. Unit Director Professor Peter Brown commented “Another fantastic day of science, and a great opportunity to take stock of our collective progress. It is always a pleasure to see the next generation of our talented scientists in action and to learn from them.”

The MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit has won a special commendation as part of the 2017 Vice-Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Awards. Now in their second year, these Awards recognise and reward excellence in public engagement with research.

At the Awards Ceremony held on 28th June 2017, the Unit was Highly Commended in the category of ‘Building Capacity’, which accepted nominations from across the University, including divisions, departments, faculties, research groups, museums, libraries, collections, colleges, platforms and programmes.

The Unit’s official citation read: “The Unit has devised and delivered a comprehensive, innovative and impactful programme for public engagement with research, focusing on two key audiences: pupils attending local secondary schools, and people affected by Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders.”

Unit Deputy Director Professor Peter Magill, who led the nomination, commented: “We are delighted that our collective achievements in public engagement have been recognised by the University in this way. The Unit views outreach to be an essential aspect of modern research, and has endeavoured to lead by example in this area. Through creating a sustainable, inclusive culture of communication across all levels of the Unit membership, as well as by fostering new partnerships with key stakeholders, we are able to deliver outreach activities of the very highest quality.”

On 22nd June, a team of Unit members visited Year 4 pupils and their teachers at St Ebbe's C. of E. (Aided) Primary School in central Oxford, to help them learn more about science, scientists, and how the brain works to control memory and movement.

Pupils were first given a brief introduction to the work of the Medical Research Council and the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit. Pupils, teachers and Unit members then engaged in a range of hands-on activities that included looking at nerve cells under a microscope, reporting on observations by making model cells, measuring electrical activity from muscles to control a robotic claw, comparing the brains of different vertebrates, discovering different types of memories, and using a game version of a brain-machine interface. In all these activities, the guiding motto was "See - Do - Report", an approach devised by the Unit to mirror the "Concrete - Pictorial - Abstract" method that the pupils use in their maths classes.

School teacher Mrs Geerthi Ahilan commented: “It was just so lovely to see everybody learning together - both children and adults. The whole approach was so inclusive that every child was challenged and felt they achieved. The whole morning was just brilliant - one that will be ingrained in their memories for many years to come.”

Unit Programme Leader Dr David Dupret, who coordinated the visit, commented: “What a great time back at school! Sharing the thrill of observing and explaining the brain with these very young investigators made my day, and reinforced the importance of encouraging children to get involved with science.”

The Unit’s visit to the school was one of many public engagement events led by the Medical Research Council and held across the country from 17th-25th June 2017 as part of the MRC Festival of Medical Research.

On 19th June, the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit welcomed lay members of the Oxford and Banbury groups of the charity Parkinson’s UK to learn more about the Unit’s research on the causes and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

The visit began with Unit Director Peter Brown highlighting the work of the Medical Research Council, the Unit’s scientific mission, and the joint commitment to public engagement with research. This was followed by short presentations from Unit research fellow Damian Herz on Deep Brain Stimulation as a therapy for Parkinson’s, and from Unit Deputy Director Peter Magill on the use of animals in Parkinson’s research. Each of the talks was integrated with a lively discussion session in which the visitors’ questions came thick and fast.

After lunch on site with a group of the Unit’s early-career scientists, visitors were offered a tour of the Unit’s laboratories, led by Andrew Sharott, Paul Dodson and members of the Magill and Sharott Groups, and given the opportunity to chat with scientists and see ongoing research for themselves. Those not attending the lab tours were treated to short presentations from Unit student Benoit Duchet on the use of computer models to optimise Deep Brain Simulation in Parkinson’s, and from Unit Programme Leader David Dupret on the role of dopamine in memory, while highlighting the importance of the mutual exchange of ideas and discoveries made in the clinical and “basic” research fields. The visit concluded with refreshments, a final Q & A session, and a chance for the visitors to give their feedback to the Unit team.

Peter Magill commented “The Unit counts people affected by Parkinson’s amongst its key stakeholders, and our open day was a fantastic chance for us to discuss our research with them. Our visitors’ questions and comments were not only insightful, but also helped us to reflect on what’s most important.”

The Unit’s open day was one of many public engagement events led by the Medical Research Council and held across the country from 17th-25th June 2017 as part of the MRC Festival of Medical Research.