Human Spaceflight, Babies and Birkbeck Science

London is one of the greatest cities in the world for science and technology research, development, events, workshops and festivals. This includes not only the London Science Festival, London Technology Week and the Science Museum, but also hubs of scientific innovation within a few hundred metres of Birkbeck, including UCL, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and The Wellcome Trust.

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Behind Birkbeck, just a metre below Malet Street, insectaries at LSHTM house numerous insects which are used to research the relationships between humans and insects (you may have seen its Professor James Logan swallow hookworms on Channel 4’s ‘Embarrassing Bodies’).

Birkbeck – Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Within Birkbeck itself, some of the most amazing scientific research is being conducted. In the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, for example, Professor Ian Crawford was appointed in January to the European Space Agency’s advisory committee on Human Spaceflight and Exploration, and has also been involved in looking at the possibility of intergalactic spaceships. Another professor in the department, Gerald Roberts has been appointed as a project scientist on the joint NASA/UK Space Agency mission to use seismic technology to collect data on quakes on Mars, with the aim of trying to clarify the likelihood of active volcanism on the planet.

Birkbeck BabyLab – Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development

Birkbeck’s BabyLab has been undertaking ground-breaking research on detecting autism in babies. Currently one of the major problems in autism diagnosis is that children who will go on to develop autism rarely show signs of the disorder until the age of two.

Researchers at BabyLab placed passive sensors on babies between the ages of six and ten months old who had a family history of developing autism. These sensors then picked up the babies brain activity when they were shown images of an adult whose eyes first looked at them, and then looked away, or vice versa.

Three years later, by looking at which babies had gone on to develop autism, the researchers were able to compare and contrast the brain activity of the babies who had and the babies who hadn’t developed the condition. The results showed that while children under the age of two who went on to develop autism did not display any outward signs of developing the condition, they were, however, already beginning to process information in a very different way. And in 2012, BabyLab’s parent department, the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD), became part of a five-year, €29 million EU project to investigate autism.

The Department of Psychological Sciences

You yourself can also contribute to some of the scientific research being conducted at Birkbeck: the CBCD’s Alpha Lab is looking for volunteers to do a 30 minute listening experiment. Volunteers will receive £5, and the Department of Psychological Sciences encourages you to register for and take part in other current or future experiments (often for remuneration). In addition, you will occasionally receive emails from your own department with requests from fellow students to complete a survey for their research. I urge you to do these. Who knows? One day you may well also be requiring your fellow students’ help with your own research.

Image credit: Sweetie187 — CC BY 2.0

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