Let Battle Commence!

On Tuesday I met with my fellow York-based “I’m A Scientists“, Jo Buckley (Radio York’s “Dr Jo” [7mins in] – she will be in the Nitrogen Zone), Louise Dash (from our Physics Department, she will be in the exciting-sounding Neon Zone) and Mark Fogg (from the York Structural Biology Lab, he will be in the Are We Too Clean Zone). We’re all excited and nervous about the contest which gets underway on Monday. We’re quite proud that York has four scientists in the contest (there are 100 in total, and we think we may be the best represented institution). And we’re serious about wanting to win. With this in mind, I was quite pleased to hear (via @imascientist on twitter) that my profile was the most visited on the I’m A Scientist website! However, I began to wonder if this might be because I spent so much time clicking on it myself and scoping the competition in the Imaging Zone (who were also well represented in the click-charts, I noticed). All my preparation (paranoia), research (stalking) and carefully-refined prose (vanity) will amount to nothing if I am evicted first; the shame will be unbearable.

This week I’ve been busy with teaching and administration but I’ve had some time for research and spent some of it working on a new experiment we’re about to begin. The experiment involves participants in the MRI scanner looking at different types of pictures. In this type of experiment it would be very interesting to discover that different categories of image  (for example, pictures of animals or human bodies) produce a systematically different patterns of brain activity, but only if we could rule out other more mundane causes. For example if one type of image (e.g., animals) is generally brighter than the other (e.g., bodies) then the changes in brain activity relate to the differences in brightness rather than the content or meaning of the picture. To make a fair comparison it’s important that the pictures don’t differ in terms of overall brightness, and I’ve been working on improved methods for matching these properties. This is not very glamorous work but it seems to be effective and it should mean our results are cleaner, and more reliable.

In other news, tomorrow is the last day for our departing third-years; to celebrate some of them are giving presentations about their projects (including my project student – good luck Steven) with a trophy for the best presentation.


This will be followed by a staff-student game of rounders (the pic shows me at bat last year). Hopefully someone has conducted a risk assessment. Last year the deputy head of department was very nearly knocked out when he collided with one of the larger undergraduates travelling at speed.

I’ve been listening to Hadestown by Anais Mitchell, which is fantastic – it is a sort concept album country-style rock opera based on the story of Orpheus. Think of Kate Bush meets Alison Krauss. And I got an iPad, which is great.


Thin rectangular gadget arrives. Essential. on Twitpic

Author: tomhartley

Neuroscientist and University Lecturer in Psychology

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