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5 June, 2017 - 11:56 By Kate Sweeney

Cambridge brainpower goes into overdrive

Cambridge neuroscience dervila

More than 130 leading Cambridge neuroscientists are putting their heads together in Cambridge to tell the public everything they want to know about the human brain.

They are prepared to tackle a range of issues from dementia and dyslexia through to memory and mental health at Cambridge BRAINFest 2017. The free public festival runs over three days from June 23-25 at Cambridge Corn Exchange.

Dr Dervila Glynn (above), co-ordinator of Cambridge Neuroscience, who is organising the event said: “We’re all fascinated by the brain – its complexity is what makes us so unique as a species.

“Cambridge is one of the major centres in the UK, if not the world, for studying how the brain works and why in many cases it goes wrong, leading to disease. Cambridge BRAINFest is our chance to showcase the brilliant work that is taking place across the city.”

Throughout the weekend, the Corn Exchange will be transformed into an interactive tour of the brain, with themes including ‘Development’, ‘Brain & Body’, ‘Pain & Pleasure’, Perception & Imagination’ and ‘Learning & Forgetting’ – spanning research from molecules to man.

Visitors, adults and children alike, will get the opportunity to take part in experiments across 30 different interactive exhibits and even build their own brain.

A ‘Secret Cinema’ will show a series of films that illustrate how Cambridge researchers are tackling conditions such as dementia and OCD. Café Scientifique will explore the breadth of brain science from body clocks and brain networks to the weird and wonderful world of the naked mole-rat.

On the opening night, audiences at the Babbage Lecture Theatre will hear from BBC Horizon presenter Dr Giles Yeo about why we are all getting fatter, from Professor Usha Goswami about ‘how dyslexic brains may be in tune but out of time’, and from Professor Roger Barker on how we can repair the degenerating brain.

Poet Lavinia Greenlaw will perform a moving poem about dementia while Cambridgeshire-based Dance Ensemblé will explore the story of Parkinson’s disease through the medium of dance.

The following night, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, will chair a panel discussion with mental health experts from the University of Cambridge and from Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

The debate will deal with the ongoing research that will help us better understand and treat mental health disorders and how we can bridge the existing gap between neuroscience research and current practice in the health service. The panel will look at issues including how the brain and body interact, the stigma surrounding mental health problems and the transition between child and adult psychiatry.

For those wishing to take advantage of the sights around Cambridge, a historical self-guided ‘Neurotrail’ will lead explorers around the places, people, and discoveries that have put our city at the heart of our understanding of the brain. Maps will be available at the Corn Exchange on the weekend.

The foyer of the Corn Exchange will be transformed by BRAINArt, an exhibition of brain-inspired art by local school children. In the lead up to Cambridge BRAINFest, Dr Glynn visited 1,400 pupils, talked about the brain and enthused her audiences about the body’s most complex organ.

“As a researcher, it can be thrilling to discuss our work with the public,” says Professor Angela Roberts, chair of the organising committee. 

“It’s an opportunity for us to share some of the excitement that comes from working at the cutting-edge of research. But equally, it’s a chance for us to hear the public’s views about our work. We expect some fascinating – and potentially challenging – discussions will arise.”

Cambridge BRAINFest 2017 builds on the success of major public engagement events organised by the University of Cambridge, including the Cambridge Science Festival in spring and the Festival of Ideas in autumn.

All events are free, but booking is recommended for the evening events at the Babbage Lecture Theatre. Further details, including how to book, can be found on the Cambridge BRAINFest 2017 website.

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