A giant brain suspended from the ceiling is the centrepiece for the University of Nottingham’s ‘Quantum sensing the brain’ exhibit at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition in London from the 2nd - 8th July.
The ‘brain room’ has been created by a team of researchers from the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre in collaboration with University College London to show how the brain works. Visitors will enter the darkened brain room where one of the team will be wearing an array of EEG sensors, placed on the scalp to monitor their brain activity, they will then perform some basic actions and the part of the brain responsible for this action will light up on the model.
The team have recently developed a new generation of quantum brain scanner that can be worn like a helmet allowing patients to move naturally whilst being scanned and that can measure our ‘brain waves’ using magnetoencephalography (MEG). The new scanner gives unprecedented accuracy. The “brain room” will represent a simplified version of this cutting edge technology. The basic physics of how the novel ‘quantum’ imaging system operates will also be showcased at the Royal Society Exhibition.
New wearable brain scanner
Conventional imaging can measure brain activity during different tasks. This tells us how the brain works to control our body and enable us to think. However, these large scanners require the subject to remain still – making it unsuitable for young children and anyone who is claustrophobic or anxious. Using cutting-edge quantum sensors, a collaborative team at the University of Nottingham and University College London has developed a new ‘helmet’ brain scanner that can be worn as the subject moves around. It detects the tiny electromagnetic fields produced by active parts of the brain and is around four times more sensitive than conventional machines. It’s hoped the new scanner can reveal how brain networks are changed in mental health conditions, and how they can be re-sculpted by therapy.
Elena Boto, PhD student in Medical Physics has led the development of the exhibit said, “Quantum sensing has the potential to provide cutting-edge insights into mental health; we have designed the exhibit to help visitors understand brain imaging and how quantum sensing works and what it could mean for the treatment of mental health conditions.
Understanding brain activity is very complex so we were keen to develop a simple and effective way to demonstrate the essence of brain imaging, and show a little of how it works. We’re excited to see people’s reaction to it.”
The exhibit will also feature brain games where people can control computer games by ‘thinking’ and a quantum box, where people can explore how brain waves are detected by passing magnetic fields through atomic gas clouds.
The Royal Society’s Summer Science exhibition is an annual free event that gives people the opportunity to explore the science shaping our future, with the people making it happen. The week long festival celebrates the cutting edge of UK science and features a packed programme of events alongside more than twenty exhibits of hands on science and technology.