ION-DRI Programme


Time Capsule buried in UCL's world-class centre for neuroscience as part of Dementia Action Week

An Iceland plastic carrier bag, a Covid-19 vaccine vial and a piece of stainless steel have been buried in a time capsule of a new world-class centre for neuroscience at UCL.

An Iceland plastic carrier bag, a Covid-19 vaccine vial and a piece of stainless steel have been buried in a time capsule of a new world-class centre for neuroscience at UCL, currently in construction on Grays Inn Road, London. The capsule will be placed in the building’s foundations on Thursday 19 May as part of Dementia Action Week.

UCL is already one of the world's largest, most productive and highest-impact neuroscience centres and the pioneering new building, due to open in 2024, will accelerate the discovery of treatments for neurological conditions, including dementia, of which there is still no known cure. 

Expanding the existing facilities at Queen Square Institute of Neurology will create a dual hub for neurological science and house the national headquarters of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI); a large proportion of UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology; and an outpatient facility for the UCLH National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, allowing clinicians and researchers to work closer than ever before with people with neurological disorders, their doctors and researchers.  

The time capsule, due to be opened in 2049 – the building’s silver jubilee - includes a range of objects that tell the story of the centre’s foundation and preserve its memories for years to come, from its inception, obtaining the Eastman Dental Hospital site in 2017 and breaking ground in 2021 – navigating the Covid-19 pandemic along the way. 

A plastic bag was included to represent the total of over £20 million donated by supermarkets to create the new facility of which £10m was donated by Iceland Food Charitable Foundation. The money was raised from the proceeds of the 5p carrier bag charge. Iceland Foods Founder and Executive Chairman Sir Malcolm Walker founded the Dementia Research Retail Partnership - a group of nine UK retailers who committed to support dementia research at UCL.

The Covid-19 vaccine, alongside the genomic sequence for the virus represents the work that both scientists at UCL and clinicians at UCLH have undertaken during the pandemic, while the piece of stainless steel symbolises the joint UCLH and UCL MRI facility, which will bring up to six new MRI scanners into operation. During construction, standard iron girders could not be used in this space, due to the powerful magnets involved.

Other items in the time capsule include a giant sunflower head, cast in black-pigmented Jesmonite by artist Annie Cattrell. The sunflower was gifted to the project’s site artist by the neighbouring Calthorpe Community Garden, who had planted and grown the flower during lockdown. 

Site artist Freya Gabie has included drawings of the work site’s surface, pupils at nearby Christopher Hatton primary school imagined what scientists would have discovered in 25 years’ time and the capsule includes a book of testimonials from key people involved in the project, a selection of commonly used lab items in 2022 and research image photographs from early career researchers and students.

The building is funded by UCL, the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, the Medical Research Council, the UCL Dementia Research Retail Coalition and our generous philanthropic partners, including: Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, Mr Martin Lee and Mrs Cathy Lee, the National Brain Appeal, Brain Research UK, and more. The Founding Funders of the UK Dementia Research Institute are the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. 

Professor Alan Thompson, ION-DRI Programme Sponsor and Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences with the time capsule (Credit James Tye)

Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences said: 
“The new UCL building at 256 Grays Inn Road has been an ambitious project, long in the making and to see what it has helped to achieve in 25 years is tantalising.

“UCL is a global leader in pioneering research into neurological conditions that cause disabling and distressing symptoms such as immobility and dementia and it can be a challenge to link researchers with clinicians, patients, industry, and students. This new purpose-built centre of excellence will enable that collaboration between these key groups to take place and, as a consequence, new treatments to be developed and tested.
“Our goal is to translate discoveries into treatments and have a real impact on patients with disabling neurological conditions and those affected by them. I am sure that in 25 years we will have taken considerable steps to translating that goal into a reality.”

Professor Michael Hanna, Director UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology said: “This is an extremely ambitious project to create an environment  which will harness the best science to develop treatments for some of the most devastating neurological disease such as dementia, Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease, for which we don’t yet currently have cures. Hopefully by 2049 work in this building will have made major progress towards therapies for these conditions”

Professor Adrian J. Ivinson and Professor Bart De Strooper, UK Dementia Research Institute Directors said: “Here in 2022, it is a pretty challenging time globally and we have no treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. But for those of us who believe in the power of science to improve health, there is wonderful anticipation for the building within which this time capsule is buried. Thinking ahead to its reopening in 2049, did we pull it off? Do patients at risk of dementia have hope again? Is work ongoing with the expectation that one day soon dementia can be prevented? Are the researchers full of the passion, optimism and energy that we were feeling as we moved into this splendid new building? We hope so!”

David Probert, Chief Executive, University College London Hospitals, NHS Foundation Trust said: “One of the most exciting things about the UK DRI is the powerful collaboration of science and medicine. This is typified through the historic partnership of UCL and UCLH, and in this new facility alongside the leading research will be UCLH outpatients and imaging services. It is through such close clinical and research collaboration that we are able to deliver life-saving and lifechanging medicine and technology. Today, as we seal this time capsule, with contributions from UCLH patients and staff, I am immensely proud of the work being done every day to improve outcomes for people with some of the most complex neurological conditions and diseases for generations to come."

Angharad Milenkovic, Vice-President Advancement, said:  “I am filled with hope about what will have been achieved by the time this time-capsule is unearthed in 25 years. I hope that all of the outcomes that we have imagined will have been realised. Made possible, in large part, because philanthropists dream of a future where patients, researchers and clinicians come together to enable breakthroughs for those with neurodegenerative diseases on a scale the world has not previously seen. It has been a privilege for me and my office to unite philanthropists with such a visionary project.”