SciBar 1: Junky Fish

Science London kindly allowed us to take over their SciBar series in Shoreditch’s The Book Club. We took the opportunity to present two of our artist-neuroscientist collaborations to talk about their research, their inspirations and what they had learnt from each other.

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QMUL’s Dr Matt Parker kicked things off with a guide to the physiological side of addiction. Matt has designed a series of ingenious ways of measuring addictive behaviour in zebrafish, using elaborate tanks with alternating patterns or colours and reward/pain feedback systems. His work explores how the combination of environmental and chemical stimuli can trigger impulsive behaviour in certain individuals more than others – helping him to identify the Winehouses, Bests and Gazzas of the zebrafish world.

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Kate Hughes then discussed the different ways she’d approached Matt’s work. Kate went through her preliminary sketches and paintings of the zebrafish, which were brought to life by Kate’s vibrant water colours. Kate has used the fish as a totem throughout her pieces, sometimes in subtle touches, such as in her depiction of a cosy corner of a pub (or an environmental addiction trigger depending on which way you look at it) or as the subject for her scratchcard piece. Even her self-portrait of her mandatory overshoes had a certain ichthyoid quality about them.

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After a short round of questions and a noticeably more reticent trip to the bar the SciBar audience were treated to a talk on by Joe Barritt (a PhD student at QMUL). Joe is investigating the chemical basis of Alzheimer’s disease, specifically the harmful plaques of a protein called amyloid beta which form toxic clusters in the membranes of the brain cells in Alzheimer’s patients. The dream will be that Joe’s work can lead to a future wherein we can spot these plaques early to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and target therapies to stop the formation of these harmful build-ups.

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Finally, Sam Burrough demonstrated some of his excellent animated illustrations which juxtapose the molecular side of Alzheimer’s with the more human, psychological effects – chiefly in its effect on memory and facial recognition. Sam has taken Joe’s imagery of amyloid beta plaques and used them as a motif to gradually abstract portraits of himself and his family members.

The night ended with a lively panel discussion of a range of themes that had come up throughout the night – the relative influence between environment and genetics, how we can get closer to theapeutic goals, and the important role that art plays in communicating abstract scientific ideas.

Apologies to anyone who missed out on coming this time around but fear not as you’ll have another chance to catch us at our next SciBar on October 21st where we’ll be discussing the science of LSD.

Many shoutouts are due, firstly to Science London for lending us their #brand and their lovely volunteers, Elliann Fairbairn, Antonia Ford, Shara Geelly, and Ereel Ayubi. Secondly, to our excellent speakers Kate, Matt, Joe and Sam. Thirdly, to the Book Club particularly Rose, Sheph, Nick, Pia and Gav for helping the night to run nice and smoothly. A very special thanks to everyone who made it down despite the rubbish weather. Finally, to Debee (our fifth Beatle) and Eddie (our Yoko) for getting all the delightful photos you see here.

Jamie Upton

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