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June 2017

Inspiring research: President’s Scholars Symposium 2017

After months of preparation, the President’s Scholars Committee launched the 2017 Research Symposium, which was a great success with over a hundred attendees and really positive feedback from the event. Everyone seemed to enjoy this day in which students interacted and shared visions, practised for their next national/international conference – both presenting and chairing the sessions – learned from their peers and very distinguished Imperial College London Professors, and had a good time networking with other postgraduate students.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 1

The event began with the inspirational talk by Professor Simone Buitendijk, Imperial’s Vice Provost for Education. Many female young researchers were looking forward to hearing her speech. She is a member of the League of European Research Universities Gender Steering Group (LERU); she has a long-lasting interest in gender equality in academia. She not only gave a sensational talk but also showed genuine interest in meeting the committee and making sure she provided absolutely everything that could have been expected for the day.

The Natural Sciences talks were introduced by Professor Fay Dowker, who captivated the audience providing a smart simple physics explanation of time. She also opened the debate on the fact that unexpected results, which may seem not to fit with previous knowledge, can, in fact, lead to groundbreaking results; such as the measure of the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, which lead to a Nobel Prize. She set the bar high, but students Simon Schoeller and Michael Sachs managed to keep the wheels spinning until the coffee break time.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 2Having had interesting discussions over a coffee, we welcomed the Engineering keynote speaker Professor Nick Jennings. He showed how artificial intelligence (AI) aims to help our society – such as optimising resources in a catastrophe – instead of taking over humankind. Some algorithms have indeed demonstrated they can beat human abilities, although they are only able to respond to very specific commands. This talk was followed by lots of questions from the audience, demonstrating the large interest in AI around Imperial. Students Thibaud Humair, Sana Waheed, Konrad Leibrandt maintained the level when presenting their research afterwards.

Dr Lucia Li was absolutely remarkable as Medicine keynote speaker. She not only showed us how to make magic but also to keep our heads up, and safe. She highlighted the challenges of the acute and long-term management of post-traumatic brain injuries in young people. She is an incredible active doctor and researcher, hugely committed and so lovely to engage with. We all enjoyed her talk, which was noted by the numerous questions she received both during and after her presentation. Once again, postgraduate students – Leor Roseman, Midhat Salman, and Silvia Sposini – did not let the audience down presenting their hard-work.

President's Scholars Symposium 2017_Pict 3The event was closed with the thanks from the President’s Students Committee, who had organised the event – Niall Bourke, Maria Anna Chatzopoulou, Amit K. Dwivedi, Terrence Lai, Helena Lund-Palau, Anya Ramgulam, Midhat Salman, Abellona U – gifts for the speakers and poster presenters, and a nice group picture.


Written by the President’s Scholars Committee

How does the heart adapt to stress? Prof Brand explained to pupils as part of an outreach day.

On the 26th of May Professor Thomas Brand, Head of the Developmental Dynamics group participated in a science outreach activity, which was organised by the Native Scientist Organisation and the Goethe Institute in London. Two classes with pupils aged 15-16, who had German as second language for at least three years participated in this activity. Four scientists including Prof. Brand gave 15 minutes lectures on their scientific subject.

The lecture by Prof. Brand dealt with the ability of the heart to adapt to stress. He explained what the heart looks like, where the pacemaker is localised in the heart and how an electrocardiogram tells about how the heart functions.

Professor Brand with students

Subsequently, the fight or flight response was discussed.

Experiment. Heart rate measurement before and after a brief exercise.

In order to illustrate the ability of the heart to increase its rate of beating, each of the students had to measure their heart rate (pulse) before and after 10 knee bends.

Students do knee bends
Students do knee bends
students measure heart rate
Students measure their heart rate after brief exercise

Surprisingly we found there was a wide spread of student heart rates – which varied from 36 beats per minute (bpm) to 90 bpm. After the brief training heart rates in most cases went up by around 20-40 bpm.

graph bpm

graph 2 bpm

In two cases however the heart rate was slower than before training, which maybe related to the fact that sitting in front of a real professor may make the heart beat faster and the physical activity was actually relaxing.

graph bpm range

The brief lecture ended with some information on the actual research of Prof. Brand who discovered a family of proteins called the Popeye domain proteins, which are involved in the fight or flight response. Mice, zebrafish and also patients carrying mutations in these genes display abnormal heart rates in response to physical stress.

staff and students
Both, the students and teachers enjoyed the day.
Professor Thomas Brand sits at desk smiling
Professor Thomas Brand

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