By Deborah Oakley
An intimate public engagement event by the CSC drew together researchers from different areas of science, and sparked conversations that could mark the beginnings of interdisciplinary collaborations.
The “Hearts and Minds” event, held on referendum day as part of the MRC Festival of Medical research, took place at the Data Science Institute at Imperial College London’s South Kensington campus. A curving wall of floor-to-ceiling images surrounded the audience on all sides, creating a unique immersive visual experience.
Larger than life scans of beating hearts and spinning models of brains gave the audience a rare insight into the inner workings of our bodies. LMS researcher Declan O’Regan discussed how his team are using traditional 2D scans to create intricate 3D models of the heart, and how these models feed into artificial intelligence software that can predict heart failure. Watch a video of this software here. Oliver Howes, a clinical psychologist at the LMS, explained his latest work on how best to treat mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.
Sculptor Katharine Dowson displayed life-sized models of her own heart and brain, produced using data from medical scans. Deborah Oakley, from the CSC’s communications team, discussed her personal motivations for taking part in a research study that involved an uncomfortable heart scan.
Advances in technology mean medical scanners can now tell us a lot about our hearts and our brains. The event explored how much we really want to know, particularly from brain scans, about conditions that may not always be treatable, and that might reveal information about our mental health.
The stunning images and narratives of the day captured the attention of prominent scientists, sixth form students, and representatives from a patient group and a charity who attended the event. Also in the audience were key figures including Amanda Fisher, director of the CSC, and Jonathan Weber, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College.
Researchers came from laboratories across the College, including computing, bioengineering and biophysics. Together they discussed how O’Regan and Howes might approach their science from new, interdisciplinary angles. This spontaneous discussion was sparked by the informal, interactive atmosphere of the visual wall. One scientist said it promoted more discussion than typical scientific seminars and described it as “a PowerPoint on steroids”.
Also impressed were school students from Burlington Danes Academy, next door to the CSC. The event tied in well with the school’s curriculum, which had seen students diseccting pig brains just the day before. Several students were keen to take part in research studies that involve heart or brain scans and which are led by O’Regan and Howes.
“We thoroughly enjoyed the event, we were blown away by the intimacy of the venue and the level of interaction with the speakers. All of whom engaged the students’ curiosities throughout and indulged questions that they asked with a mutual respect. Students left the event proud to have attended, and is something they’ll use not only in UCAS forms but as a source of cultural enrichment,” said Thomas Ross, head of biology at Burlington Danes Academy.
“The layout of the big data screens was an impressive way to present information. It encouraged students to take a step back from the precise point being discussed and see where it sat within the big picture of that topic.”