Introducing the Festival of Neuroscience: Q & A with Ian Varndell
Neuroscience research in the UK is highly fragmented – with over 150 different organisations funding, supporting or advocating this essential branch of life science. The British Neuroscience Association (BNA) has worked for many years to unite molecular and cellular neuroscience with its computational, systems, behavioural and cognitive branches, building bridges between disciplines and promoting a translational approach at many of its meetings. There has been progress, but the ambition to hold a meeting involving many disparate leading societies had never been realised in the UK. Not, that is, until now.
I asked Dr Ian Varndell, Acting Chief Executive at the BNA, to give me a brief insight into BNA 2013: Festival of Neuroscience – how it came about and why, this year, the public are being invited to join in.
How did it all begin?
The concept of a meeting involving multiple neuroscience and neurological societies was first put to the then Trustees of the BNA early in 2010 by its President, Professor Trevor Robbins CBE FRS. Later that year the Scientific Advisory Board of the BNA enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and the BNA’s customary biennial meeting was transformed into ‘BNA 2013: Festival of Neuroscience’.
It was decided that the Festival should be held at a central London venue and The Barbican Centre seemed an ideal location. It’s remarkable in that it remains open to the public even when a private event is occupying most of the space. Rather than shun or ignore the possibility of engaging with the public, the BNA has embraced the opportunity to create a unique event where scientists, city workers, families, schoolchildren and educators can learn about the brain together. Working with the Wellcome Trust and the Barbican Centre’s Creative Learning team, we have developed an extraordinary four-day Festival.
What will happen at the Festival?
The Festival will bring together eighteen partner societies with a variety of interests – from development to stroke, depression to deafness, inflammation to age-related degeneration – and up to 20 charities supporting a range of mental health and neurological disorders. Almost 240 scientists will speak about their work and up to 1000 posters will display the latest in neuroscience research.
Although the scientific sessions will not be open to the public, there will be a host of public events, daytime and evening, over the four days of the meeting. These will include debates and interactive sessions that are open to all: connecting scientists and members of the public.
Why create a public programme?
It would be simple to create purely a scientific programme for the ‘Festival’, but it’s vital that the neuroscience community engages with the public. Scientists have a duty to communicate with taxpayers and with the next generation of researchers. An event such as this, using film screenings, debates, music, a Street Fair of demonstrations, public lectures and all sorts other initiatives to inform and communicate – it’s a good start.
The message is clear: the UK is a home for great neuroscience research, and advances in this complex science will occur if everyone realises its importance and potential.