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Knitting Neurons in Newcastle

15 March 2011

Maker Faire

Last weekend, Dr Rebecca Lawson (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) and Alison Brindle (UCL Neuroscience, Division of Research Strategy) joined Dr Helen Featherstone (University of the West of England) at Maker Faire UK, to co-host Knit a Neuron, a community craft/science project.

Knit a Neuron was just one of the many stands that the 6000-plus visitors could turn their hands to at this year’s Maker Faire UK, a US initiative described as the Worlds Largest DIY Festival. The faire, which returned to the UK this year to headline the Newcastle Science Fest, was held at Newcastle’s Centre for Life and the Discovery Museum.

Dr Lawson and neurons

Part science festival, part tech workshop, Maker Faire encourages visitors to get creative at the interactive, do-it-yourself zones dotted around the venue, whilst also showing off some truly innovative projects from the UK and abroad. Among the activities on offer, visitors, guided by Makers, could solder their own LED badges, make pin-hole cameras, and challenge each other at the robot-war pavilions.

At the Knit a Neuron stand, visitors of all ages joined Rebecca, Alison and Helen on comfy sofas for an hours knitting and neuroscience banter. Everything from schizophrenia to synaesthesia was discussed as visitors created knitted neurons and then added them to the on-site knitted ‘neural network’ – an artistic representation of how neurons in the brain connect together.

Dr Lawson

Dr Lawson, who was taking part in the project for the first time said afterwards, “For most people the only 'science' they get exposed to beyond school are the stories spun to them by the popular media. Through public engagement projects like knit a neuron they get the opportunity to speak to real scientists and ask the questions they want to ask. I've spent the whole weekend engrossed in conversation about neuroscience with members of the public spanning three generations and it's been fantastic.“

Neurons outside venue

One knitter wrote in the comments book, “Enjoyed knitting my neurons. Keep up the good work - what a good way to communicate about brains .“

Even visitors waiting in the queue to get into Maker Faire weren’t forgotten: they could check out the guerrilla knitted projects around the square, be entertained by a giant fire-breathing animatronics dragon, or perhaps get chased by a wheelie bin with a mind of its own!

Photos: Benjamin Blundell and Alison Brindle


Anyone at UCL interested in displaying the knitted neurons should contact Alison Brindle