Members of the MRC BNDU are involved with a wide variety of outreach activities throughout the year, from visiting schools and participating in science festivals to hosting patient groups and work-experience placements.

The MRC BNDU is keen to facilitate understanding of what researchers do (and why and how they do it), ultimately working towards a culture where increased dialogue means that society can benefit more fully from research outcomes. We are eager to help attract as many school pupils and University students as possible into education and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Case studies of some of our recent outreach activities are profiled here. Our website News webpage features more examples of the Unit’s outreach activities. For more information about our outreach programme, please contact David Dupret (david.dupret@bndu.ox.ac.uk) and Natalie Doig (natalie.doig@bndu.ox.ac.uk).

Both the Medical Research Council and the University of Oxford have signed up to the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research, which outlines the expectations and responsibilities of research funders with respect to public engagement.

Please note that, for work-experience placements in a laboratory environment, the Unit can only host people who are at least 16 years of age at the start of the work experience period.

Social Media

You can keep up to date with news, research, outreach events and other activities at the MRC BNDU by following us on the Unit's Twitter (X) account.

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"The Symphony of the Brain", a video about research at the Unit

In partnership with Oxford Sparks, the Unit has made a short video documentary, The Symphony of the Brain, to engage the public with research carried out at the Unit. The video covers the fascinating world of brain waves, how they are studied in humans and animals, and how a better understanding of them could lead to new therapies for brain diseases.

You can watch the video on the YouTube channel of Oxford Sparks.

Schools' Open Day at the Unit

An annual event, Years 10-12 pupils from local secondary schools are invited to the Unit to see medical research for themselves. Our scientists put down their tools for the day, and talk with small groups of pupils about Unit research and what it’s like to be a scientist. We host a range of practical actvities, such as using microscopes to spot different types of nerve cell and the connections they use to pass messages, or trying out magnetic stimulation of the human brain, or using computers and mathematical tools to model the interactions of nerve cells. We also lead interactive discussions around a broad range of topics, from how the electrical activity of nerve cells is recorded to why animals are used in medical research. Schools Day often leads to individuals coming back for periods of work experience. In addition to our annual Schools Day, we also host open days that are tailored for specialised groups of school pupils, such as those enrolled with the charity Generating Genius.

Widening Access and Participation in STEM

The Unit champions several schemes that are designed to support secondary-school pupils progress into university degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As part of our innovative work-experience placement scheme, visiting pupils work alongside Unit scientists and receive personalised mentoring to gain practical skills and to learn more about key concepts and challenges in neuroscience and medical research. Working together with our partners, including charities such as in2scienceUK, our pupil mentees also receive guidance on university applications, wider information about STEM careers, and training in transferable skills.  Please note that, for work-experience placements in a lab-based environment, the Unit can only host persons who are 16 years of age or older at the start of the work experience period.

Showcasing Science

Unit staff and students often talk about science at events held outside our labs. Our engagement activities include site vists to local schools and charity groups, as well as volunteering at science festivals, such as the Cheltenham Science Festival, the Oxfordshire Science + Ideas Festival and the MRC Festival of Medical Research, where we talk with diverse audiences about the brain, neuroscience and biomedical research.

Research using Animals

The use of animals is vitally important for the Unit’s science, and we are committed to communicating - in an open and transparent way - exactly when, how and why we use animals in brain research. In the MRC BNDU, some of our research uses small rodents, and our work adheres to and promotes the exacting standards set by the regulatory frameworks that are in place in the UK and wider Europe. Most of our outreach activities provide opportunities for the public to learn more about and discuss research using animals. The Unit won Understanding Animal Research’s 2018 Openness Award in Public Engagement Activity, in recognition of our work in this area. Both the Medical Research Council and the University of Oxford have signed up to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. The MRC has published further details on the use of animals in research it funds. The University of Oxford has also provided more information on animal research carried out at the University.

Patient Engagement and Involvement

Our research is designed to provide substantial advances in the understanding of how the brain works (or its 'function'). This knowledge helps us to work out what occurs when the brain does not work properly (its 'dysfunction'), such as in diseases. The work of several MRC BNDU Groups is focussed on neurodegenerative disorders of the brain, especially Parkinson’s disease which is characterised by difficulties in movement and thought. The Unit regularly host visits for people affected by Parkinson's, so that they can gain first-hand insights into Parkinson's research in real, working labs.  Unit members also travel off-site to engage people affected by Parkinson's, for example, at local group meetings in Oxfordshire and further afield. The Unit's outreach activities are often coordinated with the national charity Parkinson’s UK. The Unit is also a key contributor to the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre. In summer 2018, the Unit launched its first network of stakeholders for Patient and Pubic Involvement (PPI) in research. In summer 2023, the Unit formed a new Patient and Public Advisory Group. If you are interested in our Advisory Group, please contact Dr Melanie Fleming.

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Accessible Research

We aim to make the results of our research as accessible as possible. With this in mind, every research paper published by the Unit includes a brief summary in plain English. Our research papers and their summaries are available on our Publications webpage. We also make video summaries of key research, which are available on the Unit's YouTube channel.  The Unit’s research papers are published in an Open Access format. Open Access is about making the products of research freely accessible to all. It allows our research to be spread quickly and widely, and helps to increase the use and understanding of our research by the wider public, charities, business and government. Every research paper published by the Unit is also deposited on a freely-accessible public database (Europe PMC).

The Unit’s Public Engagement ‘Toolbox’

In 2015, the MRC BNDU established its Public Engagement Toolbox, a diverse collection of demonstration aids that are used by Unit members to help them communicate key concepts and technologies in brain research. The tools, which range from the model brains of numerous species, to real tissue specimens, several devices for brain games, and the custom-made “Brain Claw”, are free to use and also available to external scientists in support of their own outreach activities. For more information, please contact Dr. Natalie Doig.