The Ever-Changing Brain – talk by Prof Heidi Johansen-Berg (ATOM Society)

The talk, hosted by Prof. Heidi Johansen-Berg, a highly accomplished neuroscientist researcher for the University of Oxford, titled the ‘Ever-Changing Brain,’ entailed a detailed explanation of the various functions of brain and its profound impact on daily life. At first, the talk began with the explanation of the structure of the brain, exposing the elements of grey matter within. The talk specifically concentrated in explaining the function of the grey matter and how it benefits our brain to have an abundance of it, and how it interacts with white matter, in a series of pathways and synapses. Prof. Heidi introduced a study of the brain, using imaging technology methods which are notably non-invasive, using the MRI to scan the brain. With the use of the scanner, it provides accurate detail of the brain structure and properties in the brain, and the scanner can be used for longer periods of time. The study also used the fMRI scanner to identify active parts of the brain whilst doing a task, and the study targeted in analysing, the after-effects of brain changes, as we change aspects of our lifestyle and experience various life changes. The talk, also entailed in describing a ‘taxi-driver’s study,’ where multiple London taxi drivers, had their brains scanned, and compared them to other people. It was found that the hippocampus of the drivers than in non-taxi drivers were much larger. This led to the conclusion that the discovery of the primary function of the hippocampus, that it is heavily used for the function of navigation memory. The main result from this study was proven that, perhaps some people may be born with a bigger hippocampus, the enlargement process has more to do with the result of experience than predicting disposition. The talk also covered the remodelling and reworking the brain with training; a study conducted by one of the professor’s students’, Jan Scholtz took some healthy students to learn to juggle and how this affected their brains, showing significant changes in brain after, such as the grey matter expanding in size. The talk also prompted us to question our decisions in lifestyle, as the talk heavily emphasized, the extent that it affects our brain development. We understood that if we continue to upkeep our physical activity, in later adulthood, we are less more likely to obtain more grey matter, especially in the prefrontal cortex, and become less vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. The talk also covered on how to ‘manipulate,’ brain activity with neuro-feedback, and how to train people to change their brain activity. Prof, Heidi, finished off, by noting the effect sleep has on the brain, and the extent to which it is important for learning, recovery and rehabilitation in our daily lives.

All in all – a fascinating talk and thanks to our A-Level students: Eleanor and Ralina for their feedback!

Those with an interest in science and technology, stay tuned for more upcoming talks hosted by the ATOM Festival!