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The Brilliant Club Scholars Programme

Research Associate Dr Gemma Bale, and PhD students Isabel de Roever and Pardis Kaynezhad have been working with the Brilliant Club to inspire talented Year 8 pupils from under-represented backgrounds to apply to study medical physics and biomedical engineering.


In partnership with The Brilliant Club and UCL Engineering Education, Dr. Gemma Bale (BORL) has designed a six-week Key Stage 3 course, Illuminating the Body, for the programme to teach Year 8 students about the engineering design process, the application of physical principles to the design of machines, and how scientists interpret data.


The course is being delivered by 31 tutors all over the country, reaching almost 400 pupils! Two PhD students from BORL are delivering the course, Isabel de Roever and Pardis Kaynezhad.


Read more here:

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International Day of Light

MetaboLight members were invited to exhibit at the Institute of Education to celebrate the International Day of Light with groups of young people enthusiastic about science and engineering – and light!


Out of the 250 people that visited, we scanned around 20 brains and 40 hands in total, and the students were excited to see how their fellow schoolmates responded to mathematics questions and how this affected their brain activity! We also found out from a survey that everyone enjoyed their experience at our booth – and learnt a lot about medical physics and biomedical engineering after visiting us!


We are overjoyed to hear that students from Tiffin school loved our brain scan exhibit – so much that they are preparing a presentation to teach other students about it! It is brilliant that our way of using light to measure brain activity will be shared with 400 more students!


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Lates: Future Science at National Science and Media Museum

Two of our MetaboLight team members went to the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford to give a talk and demonstration on how we use near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to monitor the brain!


People from all across Bradford came and visited our stand, with around 200 visitors over the 3 hour demonstration period. We managed to illuminate over 20 brains, and many visitors were fully engaged and interested in our explanations on how our compact system works and how this technology is being used to save lives of babies.


Our researcher, Paola Pinti, also gave a talk describing how light interacts with the environment, and how we use its properties to monitor the brain. She also gave insights from her own research projects, and fascinated audiences with the capabilities of this technology.


It was a fun day – hopefully we inspired more people to become scientists and engineers!

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Café Scientifique – Henley: 21st March 2018

On a Wednesday evening in Henley, Gemma gave a talk and live demo at a local Café Scientifique to over 80 science enthusiasts. Gemma talked about near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), how we use light to monitor the brain and then demonstrated this live on an unsuspecting member of the audience!

With our NIRS system taped to his forehead, Gemma monitored his brain oxygenation and metabolism levels while he was doing mental arithmetic. As you can see in the picture, as his brain was working on the maths there were huge increases in his brain oxygenation to feed the increase in brain activity, as can be seen by the increase in brain metabolism! After the live demo, the audience overwhelmed Gemma with interesting questions and ideas for future experiments. Finally, Gemma ended the night by giving an overview of the research happening in the hospital to monitor brain injured babies using NIRS.

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Physics in Action: November 2017 – March 2018

Our researcher, Gemma Bale, has been giving lectures across the country to inspire future physicists at Physics in Action days. Held at the University of Warwick and in London at Friend’s House and Camden Centre, Gemma has talked about her work in developing technology to monitor babies’ brains with light to over 2000 A level students! The lecture includes creating an optical model of the brain using milk and cordial, getting everyone in the audience to shine light through their hands with their phone torches and a look into the future of medical devices.

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The Big Bang Fair 2018 Roundup

13th to 17th of March 2018


The MetaboLight team went to Birmingham and took on The Big Bang Fair; the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people in the UK. An event with foot traffic of between 8,000 and 10,000 people each day. We were very pleased with the opportunity and we can confirm now that this event was a major, but enjoyable, challenge for the whole team.


Our interactive exhibit helped a lot in bringing in the crowds and our three main activities of (1) Guessing the gummy bear colours; (2) Making your hand invisible with near-infrared light; and (3) Measuring your brain activity; were a success. In fact, we made more than 300 hands invisible, measured the brain power of more than 300 brains and gave away more than a couple of thousand gummy bears.


One of our main activities this time was the hand scanner, a device that people place their hands in and using near-infrared light we demonstrate to them how their hand becomes invisible. This device was put together by our resident medical engineer Nico Chen using various LEDs (light sources), a very sensitive camera that can see near-infrared light and a Raspberry Pi (a small computer). It was literally a “hands on” activity illustrating how different colours of light pass through tissue and how near-infrared light can penetrate through bone. We use near-infrared light in our research to look into the brains of very sick newborns in the intensive care unit and quantify their levels of brain oxygenation and metabolism; information that medical doctors can use to treat the infants.


We would like to thank everyone that came to see us in The Big Bang Fair and importantly the people that did our activities and asked a lot of questions!

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Engineering Saves Lives Masterclass

Two of the Metabolight team recently hosted a  session as part of UCL’s “Engineering Saves Lives” Masterclass series. Students from all across London came together to learn about how our team use light to explore the brain.


The day started with a short presentation on our work before moving on to the “science circus”. Four experiments were set up to explore different aspects of light and the brain, with students moving between experiments after ten minutes. Experiments ranged from using a model of metabolism in the brain to look at its function through to shining light through different materials to try and light up a sensor.


After a short break, students then took part in an electronic engineering tutorial led by Metabolight’s resident engineer, Nico Chen. From simple circuits that light up LEDs through to more complex ones that used different combinations of switches, all the students really enjoyed the chance to get hands on experience with part of our work that we don’t often get to talk about!


We finished the session by looking at the kind of machines we use in a clinical and research setting before then getting a few of the students up to the front to live stream their brain’s haemodynamics using our mini CYRIL device.


All in all, it was a great day with both our team and the students taking a lot away from the experience.


We’ll be posting materials about the experiments we developed for this session in the near future!

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National History Museum

Our team at MetaboLight had an exciting afternoon on 9 November at the Natural History Museum where we shared our work with teachers.


The event was organized by STEM Learning and the Natural History Museum, and aimed to assist and inspire teachers in creating and delivering science to their students in fun and exciting ways.


We prepared some nice experiments that can easily be reproduced in classrooms, shining various coloured lights through different liquids to demonstrate light interaction with matter at different wavelengths. We also showed teachers how a normal smartphone can monitor heart beat rate using the same principle!


We spoke about our research work to lots of people and saw a lot of interest in our demonstrations from teachers! Hopefully we helped them to inspire their students to become scientists and engineers!

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Norwich Science Festival

On 25 October, our team at MetaboLight went to Norwich Science Festival to share our work with others!


Norwich Science Festival took place over a week-long period, and we were lucky enough to be involved with this event for one of those action-packed days. With foot traffic of between 8,000 and 10,000 each day, we were in for a busy time! We got to show off our interactive exhibit that was first presented at our launch event, as well as share our work using light with the many festival-goers.


The highlight of our exhibit was using one of our compact systems to monitor brain activity. We recruited volunteers to do some mental arithmetic sums whilst we monitored their head using light. With increased brain activity, we expect to see an increase in blood flow as our brain cells need more oxygen and glucose to generate energy and we can measure this increase in oxygenated blood using near-infrared light. We saw some great results from our volunteers.


Festival organiser, Natalie Bailey, said “The footfall for the 9 days in the Forum was approx. 75,000, which just shows how much interest there is in science” and that our “stand looked fantastic and was very engaging!”


It was an eventful day – we spoke to lots of people, monitored lots of brains (over fifty) and hopefully inspired some future scientists and engineers!

London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) Specialist Lecture thumbnail

London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) Specialist Lecture

“Shining light on the function of the brain: Optics in medicine”

How can we explore the oxygenation of the brain? That’s one of the questions that near-infrared spectroscopy could answer. On Monday 7th August, Dr Gemma Bale presented a specialist lecture to the London International Youth Science Forum at Imperial College London to a group of young scientists from all over the world. The lecture covered the function of the brain, how near-infrared light can monitor changes in brain activity, and how it could be used to save lives in the future.


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The lecture began with Dr Gemma explaining how near-infrared spectroscopy works and went on to show how she uses her equipment to monitor brain injury in newborn babies. After this, with the help of a volunteer from the audience, she made an optical model of the brain (made of water, food colourings and milk) and showed how infrared light interacts with it.


At the end of the session the participants were allowed to ask questions and had an interesting discussion with Dr Gemma. They said thanks for the amazing lecture, mentioned how important this investigation is, and how this could change people’s lives. They also mentioned how much they enjoyed the lecture and we hope that she comes back for LIYSF 2018!


Written by Aranza Meza Dorantes, LIYSF Ambassador

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Year 12 Induction Day at Newham College thumbnail

Year 12 Induction Day at Newham College

On 4th September, members of the MetaboLight team visited Year 12 students in Newham College, East Ham, as part of their Induction Day welcoming them back to the start of the school year.


We hosted a workshop to introduce students to the topic of Biomedical Engineering, including the work we do using light to investigate physiological changes in the body. Demonstrations included looking at absorption and scattering effects using cordial and milk, shining light through our fingertips, and asking a few brave volunteers to perform a maths task designed to activate their frontal lobe, whilst we monitored their brain activity!


We had a fantastic time sharing the work we do with this inquisitive group of students, and were pleased to see their enthusiasm and enjoyment during the session. We wish them all the best for their continuing studies!

London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) Workshop thumbnail

London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) Workshop

On Friday 28th July, talented young scientists from all over the world, taking part in the annual two-week LIYSF event, visited UCL to learn more about science research and its applications. The team at MetaboLight hosted a workshop for 30 Year 12 pupils to show them the research we are doing and how simple principles they have learnt in their science lessons can be expanded to our work.


The workshop began with an introduction to the brain, before demonstrating how we can harness the different properties of light to interrogate biological tissue and how the light coming back can be used to obtain information about oxygenation and metabolism in the brain. This all lead to guiding the students to building their own near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) machine and the culmination of the workshop was in a functional brain experiment. We used one of our commercial NIRS systems to monitor the frontal lobe of one volunteer – and as they performed a maths task, we could see a clear increase in brain activity! Success!


We thoroughly enjoyed sharing our work with an excited young audience and wish them the best for the remainder of their program!

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IoP Teacher Conference

This year’s annual Institute of Physics Teacher Conference took place at UCL, and our team at Metabolight were keen to get involved! We held a workshop for the teachers to share our work and help relate real-world research back to the classrooms.

We started the workshop introducing the basic principles of white light, before imaginative use of gummy bears and different coloured ‘finger LEDs’ helped to demonstrate concepts such as absorption and reflection. Next, we got interactive! We asked the teachers to get out their smart phones and shine the white light from their camera flash through the tip of their finger, to demonstrate how red and near-infrared light can travel through tissue (including bone). Finally, we introduced the pulse oximeter, a medical device which utilises the same concepts we use in our research. We concluded with some examples of the optical systems we are building in our team and how these are being used in the hospital to monitor brain-injured babies.

It was a great experience sharing our work with such an engaging audience, and we hope to get involved with more of these workshops in the future.

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Metabolight Launch

Wednesday 12 July saw the much-awaited launch of our public engagement project, MetaboLight. We were very excited to finally introduce this collaboration between scientists from UCL and doctors from UCLH to the public.

The evening kicked off at 1700 with some welcome drinks and the unveiling of our interactive exhibit (see picture), which will be rolled out at science festivals in the future. We then presented our branding and website design, before the premier screening of our short film explaining what our research is all about.

We really enjoyed the evening and received some great feedback to help us continue developing and expanding our project. We are now very keen for the next steps of our Metabolight journey – watch this space!


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SMASHfestUK Festival visit

On 17 February we visited SMASHfestUK, a Science, Engineering and Arts Festival in Deptford, London. The aim was to explore a local science festival to help prepare for our public engagement activities and be inspired!

Located in the nearby area of Deptford, only a stone’s throw away from UCL, we set off to discover the wonders (and horrors) of the supervolcano that was about to erupt at the festival. From volcanic rocks to survival tactics and navigating robots, all aspects of natural disaster were investigated.

It was a fun field trip, with some great interactive exhibitions and thought-provoking activities. It has certainly given us plenty of ideas for our future engagements!

UCL Launch – 17 January 2017 thumbnail

UCL Launch – 17 January 2017

On Tuesday 17 January we presented our new design and website to scientists, engineers, doctors and public engagement experts at UCL. We shared our goal for the project as being to create activities that will raise awareness, engage, share, expose and explore:


  • the science of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering
  • how we can ‘engineer’ light to monitor the brain
  • our stories of engineering and physics challenges
  • how our technologies can inform clinical decision and improve patient care


We discussed future plans for the project including: the new website, some educational short films, state of the art demonstration kits and an interactive booth for science festivals. We got some great feedback from UCL and we’re excited for a full launch, coming soon…

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