Brianne and the Festival of Science

29/06/2015

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Hi my name is Brianne Kent, for the last few years I have been working towards a PhD at the University of Cambridge. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada with a mother and father who were both teachers, instilled in me a passion for education and an interest in how our brains learn and remember information. I began researching memory and age-related memory loss as an undergraduate at Simon Fraser University, and have continued my research throughout graduate school at Yale University and the University of Cambridge.

My favourite part of science and research is being able to push the limits of our knowledge of how the brain works. There is so much that we do not know and the job of a scientist is to come up with ways to answer the unanswered questions.

For the past 4 years, I have volunteered at the annual Cambridge Science Festival, which is a free 2-week festival open to the public. Each year, the festival hosts over 250 events and is visited by 30,000 people. The aim of the festival is to explore and discuss issues of scientific interest with people from the community and to encourage students to consider a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

Last year I showed visitors real preserved human brains and a 3D model that showed connections important for normal brain functioning. It was a great way for visitors to learn about the inner workings of the brain.

This year I presented the #SheBlindedMeWithScience collaboration in the Department of Psychology. A rock band called Violet Transmissions had recreated the musician Thomas Dobly’s hit from the 80s, and we had the music video projecting on a large screen. The video played continuously throughout the day, along with individual monitors that played interviews with female scientists. The women were associated with an organization called ScienceGrrl, which was setup to support women in science and show the “real female face of science in Britain”.

It was great seeing both boys and girls listening to the interviews and hearing women discuss physics and engineering. My favourite memory from the event was an elderly woman who spoke candidly about how it was great to see female scientists who weren’t “frumpy” to change the stereotype of the types of women who go into science.
Along with providing the visitors with interesting displays and opportunities to learn about scientific topics, the festival also enables the general public to meet with Cambridge researchers. Even though none of the events that I helped with were presenting my specific research, I have had countless conversations with both children and adults about what I do. I hope that meeting real scientists will encourage young people to take more of an interest in science.

Along with the science festival, another great event in Cambridge is the Public Open Evenings at the Institute of Astronomy. On most Wednesday nights anyone can have the opportunity to look through the telescopes and see planets and stars if the sky is clear.

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I have also really enjoyed supporting Soapbox Science. The event has been hosted on The SouthBank in London for the past 5 years and always draws a huge crowd that come to listen to women discuss research in various fields. This year there are also events in Bristol, Glasgow, Newcastle, Swansea, and Exeter. I think Cambridge market square would be an ideal place to host a Soapbox Science event, so hopefully there will be one in the future.

Cambridge is a wonderful place to be a scientist. It attracts people from around the world, creating a truly international community. Cambridge is also very collaborative and interdisciplinary, which provides researchers the opportunity to work on really interesting projects. My favourite Cambridge scientist is my PhD supervisor, Professor Tim Bussey. He is professor by day and musician by night. He is the lead singer in the Violet Transmissions band and stars in the She Blinded Me With Science music video. I think it is so fabulous that he is using his musical talents to support women in science initiatives and to help spread the word that science is not just for boys.

These days it is so easy to learn about science. Anyone who is interested will find that the internet is full of wonderful websites and videos that can teach you about almost any topic you can think of. In Cambridge there are also wonderful museums, public talks, and the annual science festival to attend.

A fun fact about me would be that I studied ballet for almost 20 years. After almost 4 years in Cambridge I am heading back to Vancouver, Canada to join the Department of Medicine- Division of Neurology as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. My ultimate scientific challenge and dream discovery would be to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause of memory loss in the elderly.

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