UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences


BrainTalks: #BrainPower Neuroscience Festival

22 June 2019, 11:00 am–5:00 pm

Brainpower event talks

Get your mind thoroughly blown at these public talks by UCL researchers on all things neuroscience. Part of #BrainPower, the day-long UCL Neuroscience Festival.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Kester Muller – SLMS Research Coordination Office
020 7679 8005


The Cloisters
Wilkins Main Building (Accessed via Main Quad)
Gower Street
United Kingdom

#BrainPower is a whole day of public events showcasing the best of neuroscience at UCL. This special one-off festival is organised by the UCL Neuroscience Domain, the university's community for neuroscientists. Featuring interactive stalls, talks, short films, artworks, live demonstrations, storytelling, and workshops, there will be something for everyone, including loads of family friendly options. You can see the main event webpage here. 

These public talks are part of the wider festival programme, and will be held in the Jeremy Bentham Room. The talks are free, but we ask you to register either via the link above, or via the main event webpage.

Please note that BSL (British Sign Language) interpreters will be present for all of these talks.

The talks will be chaired by Sophie Scott, who will also be speaking. 

Session 1: 13:00-14:00

  • What's so funny about laughter? (Professor Sophie Scott)
    Professor Scott will be talking about the science of laughter and how our brains process laughter. The talk will address some of the real reasons why we laugh, and how we learn to laugh, as well as what this can vary across people. 
  • Interfacing with the brain – where are we and where are we going? (Professor Andreas Schaefer)
    Brain-machine interfaces have been a hot topic of science fiction for decades – from the Matrix to Black Mirror. What is the reality of interfacing with the brain? Professor Schaefer will discuss ongoing research, the technology and healthcare applications as well as the challenges that come with the exciting developments around the ability to directly listen and talk to the brain. 
  • Stimulating Speech after Stroke. (Professor Jenny Crinion)
    Games of Thrones actor, Emilia Clarke, recently shared her experience and survival of two brain aneurysms - a type of stroke. Recovery was difficult at first, due to a condition called aphasia which left Emilia unable to say her own name.
    Professor Crinion will show recent brain imaging research from her group at UCL, illustrating how despite brain damage, people with aphasia can recover their brain and speech function. She will then explore what research tools her group are using and developing to help people improve their speech and make aphasia recovery more effective. This includes non-invasive brain stimulation techniques and gamified language Apps that allow people have fun while practicing and improving their speaking, reading, listening skills at home.

Session 2: 15:00-16:00

  • BrainPower: insights from deafness and sign language. (Professor Mairead MacSweeney)
    Research with people born deaf can offer unique insights into brain and language development, which cannot be gained from research with hearing people alone. In people born deaf, what happens to the parts of the brain that usually process sound in hearing people? Are signed languages processed by the brain in the same way as spoken languages, even though one language is seen and the other heard? Why do many deaf children find learning to read to be a challenging task? Professor MacSweeney will review each of these questions. Each of them highlighting the novel perspective that deaf people can provide into ‘the Power of the Brain’. 
  • Exploring the magnetic brain. (Dr Tim Tierney)
    Did you know that your brain is magnetic? It’s certainly not the strongest magnet in the world but it is still magnetic. In fact, the magnetic field produced by your brain is billions of times smaller than the magnetic field produced by a fridge magnet! However, with the right technology we can analyse these very tiny magnetic fields from your brain and study how you think, speak and move. In this talk Dr Tierney will show the work that we have done on measuring this brain activity with a device known as the Optically Pumped Magnetometer. He will demonstrate how this device can give a unique insight into human brain function and ultimately tell us how the brain works and why some brains are different. 
  • It Takes Two to Tango—How Our Nerve and Immune Cells Impair Memory (Dr Soyon Hong)
    Alzheimer’s disease causes one to have difficulty in learning and remembering. Synapses are the primary communication bridges between the nerve cells of our brain. In Alzheimer's, synapses die early on in a brain region called hippocampus, the epicentre of learning and memory. So, what leads these neuronal synapses to die? Recent genetic studies pinpoint that microglia, which are our brain's major immune cells, may be at fault. Healthy microglia protect our brain, often the first responders to site of injury. Microglia also act as sculptors as we grow, pruning away synapses that are improperly connected. However, in Alzheimer’s disease brains, it appears that this pruning pathway in microglia is turned on. Microglia in the hippocampus now eat more synapses than they are supposed to. So, what turns on this pathway in the Alzheimer brain? And how can we turn off this pruning pathway, without disabling microglia’s protective features? 

Image credits: Brain drawing: www.modup.net/

About the Speakers

Professor Sophie Scott

Wellcome Senior Research Fellow in Basic Biomedical Science and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

Prof Sophie Scott researches the neurobiology of human vocal perception and production and she has pioneered the neuroscientific study of laughter. At night she tried to turn theory into practice by doing stand up comedy. She was the 2017 Royal Institution Christmas Lecturer.

More about Professor Sophie Scott

Professor Andreas Schaefer

Professor of Neuroscience at Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology

Andreas Schaefer leads the Neurophysiology of Behaviour Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute and is a Professor of Neuroscience at UCL.
A physicist by training, he obtained his PhD at the MPI for Medical Research under the supervision of Bert Sakmann. After postdoctoral work with Troy Margrie he established his own lab at UCL and subsequently at MPI. In 2010 he was appointed Professor of Neuroanatomy at the University of Heidelberg; he moved to his current position in 2013. His research focuses on dissecting the cellular mechanisms of information processing in the brain using mouse olfaction as a model system. 

More about Professor Andreas Schaefer

Professor Mairead MacSweeney

Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

Mairéad MacSweeney is the Director of the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre at University College London (UCL). She is also a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. She explores the impact of being born profoundly deaf on brain plasticity and how the brain processes language.   In her recent work she has started to translate this work into educational interventions for deaf children. 

More about Professor Mairead MacSweeney

Dr Tim Tierney

Research Associate at UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology

Tim did his PhD on the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging for planning brain surgery in children with epilepsy. He currently is a researcher at the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging. He is now working on developing new medical imaging device, The Optically Pumped Magnetometer, which can tell us more about how the brain works and why some brains are different.

More about Dr Tim Tierney

Prof Jenny Crinion

Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

Jenny Crinion is a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL. Her research focusing on brain and language recovery following brain injury (primarily stroke) is funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Scientist Fellowship. She is also a consultant speech and language therapist at the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery, part of University College London Hospitals where she is responsible for the delivery and strategic development of the UK’s first national specialist and Intensive Aphasia Rehabilitation service. 

More about Prof Jenny Crinion

Soyon Hong

Fellow in Dementia and Neurodegeneration at UK Dementia Research Institute

Dr. Soyon Hong is dedicated to the studying of microglia biology and mechanisms of synapse degeneration in dementia. Her laboratory at UCL aims to unravel the immune mechanisms of neural circuitry and function. Specifically, it is dedicated to investigating changes in microglial state and function in learning and memory, and how neuroglial communications break down in dementia. Dr. Hong received her PhD from Harvard University and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2018.

More about Soyon Hong