Brain Box Challenge Event Exceeds 3,000th Pupil Milestone

Primary school children across the West country and beyond have been learning about brain science since 2013 thanks to an award-winning outreach programme led by Dr Dave Turk at the University of Bristol. This week a team led by PhD students Hugo Hammond and James Willmott visited two Year 6 classes at Kingsway primary school in Gloucester. This event marked a significant milestone for this highly acclaimed outreach programme, which has now engaged with more than 3,000 school pupils across the region.

The Brain Box Challenge is a free, hands-on practical workshop which educates primary school pupils in years 5 and 6 about what their brain looks like, how scientists study it, how it differs from animals and how it controls their behaviour. The session includes practical demonstrations, craftwork, games and brain puzzles as well as the opportunity to carry out some real experiments and the opportunity to see some real brains!

‘It was a fantastic session and unlike anything the children had experienced before – we couldn’t have wished for more. The session content was high level but pitched perfectly and our children became the first to score 10/10 on the final quiz. They were fully engaged and still talk about the session now. The team were very knowledgeable and really helped with our children’s understanding of what they were learning.’

Year 6 teacher at St Pius Xth primary school in Bishopsworth.

In the 2018-2019, the team saw over 225 students in six separate visits to primary schools. These included Kingsway – Gloucester, Buckfastleight – Devon, Northleaze – N Somerset, Horfield and St Pius – Bristol and Farmborough – Bath. This workshop is part of the University of Bristol’s wider public engagement efforts, which regularly see staff and students sharing their work with the public to benefit the wider city and society.

‘Brain Box Challenge was a wonderful example of the type of hands-on and interactive outreach activities that the University offers to local primary students. It inspires future generations of budding scientists to keep up their science subjects at secondary schools so that they are able and wanting to apply to one of the Life Sciences courses later on.’

Dr Gail Born, the Faculty Engagement Officer for Life Sciences.


The Life Sciences outreach team has seen over 2500 primary students in the last academic year in over 50 separate events in local schools.  For further information, please visit out website.

For information on all of the outreach programmes offered by the Faculty of Life Science please visit or contact us at

Understanding how cancer cells eat

Meet Dr Emma Vincent as she tells us about her research and the artwork inspired by her work that reflects on the pathways that we and our cells can make

Amy holt (1st year PhD), Emma Vincent, Aleksandra Ryk (MRes) and Danny Legge (Postdoc)

Can you tell us a little about your work?

I work on the link between type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer. People with type 2 diabetes and obesity have an increased risk of developing cancer across their lifetime. We want to find out why this occurs to stop it happening.

‘The discovery of new things is an incredible, fulfilling experience.’

I study metabolism within our cells, so essentially, I look at how cancer cells eat and fuel themselves in order to divide. So how they make all the building blocks they need to make a new cancer cell. To do that cells need to change the metabolic pathways that they use in order to make all these building blocks.

What message did you want the art based on your research to tell?

The message with the artwork that I am hoping to get across is something positive: I thought it would be nice to show that, by treating, managing and improving type 2 diabetes and obesity, it is possible to do something positive to help prevent disease progression and to lower cancer risk.

Eating more healthily and exercising more can help adjust your path towards a healthier life. I was thinking there are parallels between how cells change their pathways to determine their fate and how people can also change the decisions they make to positively influence their health.

Pathways by Sophie Rae

What do you think and feel when your see the artwork?

It makes me feel optimistic and perfectly captures the message I wanted communicate. The piece made me think more about the positive sides to my work. As a researcher you sometimes get bogged down in the fine detail and you can get quite single minded about making little discoveries. You can forget there is larger positive message in what you are doing. I think the most valuable thing I have got out of this experience is that it made me reflect on how what I do is perceived by other people – I don’t do that very often.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge in your field right now?

The biggest challenge is understanding what it is about obesity and diabetes that increases cancer risk. Research is making huge progress to understand the links, but the real challenge comes in finding things that can be targeted to reduce the risk and progression of cancer in people with type 2 diabetes and obesity, to make a real difference.

Another challenge with type 2 diabetes and obesity is making a positive change in a population of people. We know that unhealthy lifestyles are contributing to rising levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Encouraging and supporting one person to lose weight, for example, is a relatively easy challenge, but it’s difficult to scale that up in a large population.

What are you proud of in your career so far?

The discovery of new things is an incredible, fulfilling experience. During my postdoc in Canada we found a pathway that cancer cells use in response to nutrient restriction. So, if cancer cells can’t get enough nutrients, they switch to this pathway to stay alive. It is a pathway that nobody at the time thought cancer cells could utilise. This was a significant finding in the field and made me feel proud.

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring researchers?

There is no escaping that research is tough! But if you have that drive to discover what isn’t known then just keep going and be persistent. It can be a career of many rejections, but when you do make discoveries it is 100% worth the effort.

Emma Vincent is a Doctor of Cancer Metabolism in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. Emma specialises in the links between obesity, diabetes and cancer risk.

Why we should be talking about bowel cancer

Meet Professor Ann Williams who tells us about her research and the important message behind the Creative Reactions artwork inspired by her work.

Can you tell us a little about your research?

We have known for a long time that aspirin can help to prevent bowel cancer, but we don’t yet know the mechanism by which this occurs. We know that aspirin inhibits cyclooxygenases, a class of enzymes that produce prostaglandins such as PG2 which can promote cancer. However, drugs that inhibit selective cyclooxygenases are not as effective as aspirin at inhibiting cancer. This suggests that aspirin is doing something else to protect against bowel cancer.

‘I am incredibly lucky to be in a career where I learn something new every day’

The research we are doing is looking at the effects of aspirin that do not involve cyclooxygenase inhibition. We are modelling human tumour progression, to investigate the effects of long-term aspirin exposure on the proteins made by our cells.

The long-term goal of this research is to help inform how people should be taking aspirin. We still do not know if people should take aspirin every day, what dose is most effective and whether they should take it before or after bowel cancer surgery. Aspirin may be excellent as a preventative medicine however there are risks associated with its use. We need to understand a lot more about how it works before we recommend taking aspirin to healthy individuals.

More realistically aspirin appears to be very effective for people who are already at increased risk of developing the disease. For these individuals there is currently little the NHS can offer. These are the people who may benefit from taking regular aspirin, but we still need to fully understand how it works to know how much and often they should take it.

What inspired you into bowel cancer research?

Helping to prevent bowel cancer is hugely important to me, especially as my father died from the disease when he was only 55. Working with my supervisor and mentor, Professor Chris Paraskeva was also hugely influential: my first job with Chris came about after I asked a question at a scientific meeting. Chris approached me to ask about my PhD and encouraged me to apply for a postdoc position in his lab. I now tell my students that it is always worth putting your hand up, you never know who is listening and what may happen!

What do you feel when you see the artwork based on your work?

I think its fabulous! It shows the development of a colorectal tumour as it spirals out of control. It is really clever, and I hope it will appeal to both non-specialists and specialist alike.

Progression of Colorectal Cancer by Claudia Stoker

The great thing about doing this work is it gives people a chance to ask questions, to start a discussion. This is so important particularly with bowel cancer where people often ignore symptoms because they are embarrassed. If we can get people to go to their doctor if they think they have symptoms, the chances are that if it is a tumour, it will be caught at an early stage which can be cured by surgery.

What do you think will be the next big breakthrough in your field?

One of the big frustrations in this field is that there is screening available which is effective, but many people do not take advantage of it. In addition, it is evident from research that bowel cancer is becoming more prevalent in younger people. GPs don’t expect younger people to have bowel cancer and symptoms can be ignored: this means that younger patients can be diagnosed later with more advanced disease. Improving ways in which we can stratify younger people towards screening would be a great thing, it could help improve the prognosis for this group of patients too.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

There are many things: I am incredibly lucky to be in a career where I learn something new every day. You can be massively frustrated by scientific experiments, but never bored. Every question we answer generates many more questions. The research environment also means I get to work with brilliant people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds which is a huge privilege.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I am proud that our research has contributed to improving health through clinical trials and initiatives such as the 5-a-day fruit/veg campaign.

I also really like seeing aspiring researchers succeed! I have enjoyed helping some brilliant students who have gone on to do great things and have very successful careers.

Do you have any words of wisdoms for aspiring researchers out there?

Always ask questions and don’t be scared. It is very easy in a conference to hide away but be a little brave. These days it is acknowledged that research is a difficult career, you need to be resilient. But make the most of every opportunity, ultimately it is great privilege to work as an academic, it is a career path that encourages true creative exploration.

Ann Williams is a Professor of Experimental Oncology in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. Ann specialises in studying the mechanisms by which low dose aspirin can help prevent bowel cancer.


Game on: Microbial Pursuit, anything but trivial

Dr Isabel Murillo Cabeza has created an exciting and interactive version of Trivial Pursuit called Microbial Pursuit, to help our undergraduates learn. Isabel explains how it came about…

The inspiration for Microbial Pursuit came from playing games with my family. My daughter Hannah is very curious and she is always asking me about microbiology. Everything clicked together in my mind and I thought that a combination of a game and microbiology would have great potential as an interactive and pedagogical tool. I’m a Teaching Fellow in Microbiology in CMM and passionate about education and teaching. I spent time surfing for information about interactive board games, looking for design ideas and finally I put it together.

I have always had an interest in developing new teaching activities, in particular interactive sessions. I have been thinking about ways in which students can learn while playing and I developed this game as a pedagogical tool that allows the students to revise their units while playing. Games are extensively used during primary and secondary education as an important pedagogical vehicle but they are forgotten in higher education. Fortunately, the University of Bristol is very keen on the use of games to enhance the student learning experience. Last year, the Bristol Institute for learning and Teaching (BILT) organised a series of seminars on the importance of games in higher education and funded my proposal which has given me the opportunity to design and develop Microbial Pursuit.

How does it work?

Microbial Pursuit and it is an exciting and interactive game‑based activity, to be both made and played by students. It is a board game that facilitates and stimulates learning in the subject of Microbiology. The game resembles Trivial Pursuit in that the board is divided into coloured squares and some of the rules of Trivial Pursuit are used. The coloured squares on the board refer to six different topics according to the syllabus of the Microbiology unit.

The principle of the game is very easy, and it is played in two sessions. During the first session, each group of six students will make a number of questions and answers about one specific microbiology topic. During the second session, students will be distributed into different groups and play the game. Questions and answers are checked by academics before the game is played. Students can use class handouts, Blackboard material, eBiolabs and Google as a source of information.


Does it really work? Do students learn better playing your game?

Yes, it really does! It is a very engaging game as the students are not only players but also game makers. I have run three sessions with undergraduate students enrolled in a first year microbiology unit. The student feedback, both oral and written has been very positive and encouraging.

Playing Microbial Pursuit is also a social activity. Students not only play and learn but also meet and interact with other students which is particularly important during the first year at the university. I have been approached by some students who want to borrow the game to play with friends so they could revise for the final exams. This I take as a compliment! I love microbiology; I find it a fascinating scientific discipline and I want students to feel that excitement too.

Do you have any more plans for the game? 

I am definitely going to use Microbial Pursuit again! I’ve already scheduled some sessions for next academic year. Two aspects I also wanted to target with my design are sustainability and versatility. With that in mind, I created blank cards fitted inside individual sleeves, in this way new students’ questions can be printed and inserted into the sleeve after removing the old ones.

The beauty of the game is that it can be applied to any discipline. The blank cards are very versatile, they can be used with any type of questions. I would be delighted if other schools would like to try it!

Dr Isabel Murillo Cabeza started working in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine (CMM) in 2006. Her background is in molecular microbiology, which goes back to her PhD when she worked with the fungus Fusarium. Spanish, born in Barcelona, she later graduated with a degree in Biology from the University of Barcelona before undertaking her PhD in Spain. In 2001, she came to Bristol with a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship and  fell in love with the charismatic and multicultural city of Bristol.

Smoke signals: a lesson in mental health

Can smoking effect your mental health? Dr Robyn Wootton, a genetic epidemiologist studying mental illness talks about her research, art, twins, and why she’s passionate about genetics.

“In the UK, if your car breaks down, you can get help within 60 minutes. When your mind breaks down, it can take 18 months.” There have been multiple examples of this notion that have stuck with me over the years. Mental illness affects 1 in 4 people every year and the prevalence of mental illness is rising at dramatic rates. Having experienced mental health problems myself and having seen close friends really struggle with recurrent mental illness, I became all too aware of how little we can do when someone is really suffering. This lack of funding, both into research and into services has made me frustrated and passionate about trying to help, leading me to become a genetic epidemiologist studying mental illness.

My PhD focused on the genetics of positive mental health (such as happiness, trust, gratitude and optimism) by studying twins and now I’m looking at the association between tobacco/alcohol and mental illness. This year, I got involved in Creative Reactions, which explores the relationships between science and art. The artist I was paired with, Chris Bowles, managed to see connections between my work that I had never noticed before.

Chris noticed the many forms of symmetry (e.g. in the double helix, in pairs of chromosomes, in identical twins etc.) and was particularly interested in how two identical twins, who share 100% of their genetic material, can be discordant for mental illness. That is to say, one twin gets depression and the other doesn’t. You can see this in the two different images Chris has placed side by side. Both have the same double helix in the background, however one looks chaotic and the other more clear. I see this as the same genetics producing different outcomes in different individuals. And of course, these different outcomes are the result of different environments we are exposed to, represented as cigarette smoke throughout the images.

Smoking is much more prevalent amongst individuals with depression and schizophrenia than the general population. This was thought to be due to people with depression and schizophrenia smoking more in order to alleviate their symptoms. But recent research suggests that smoking can also increase your risk of developing depression and schizophrenia due to lasting changes to the brain. This is further evidence that we need to help individuals stop smoking both because of detrimental effects on mental health as well as physical health.

I’m using the method of Mendelian randomisation (MR) to look at whether cigarette smoking really does increases your risk of developing schizophrenia and depression. MR uses genetic variants that make an individual more susceptible to take up smoking. The idea is that these genetic variants are inherited randomly at conception and hence are kind of like a randomised control trial. They should be inherited independently of other lifestyle factors (e.g. education, alcohol consumption etc.) and your genes are fixed for your lifetime and therefore having mental illness cannot go back in time and change the genes you were born with. The University of Bristol has a world leading MRC funded research centre (the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit) where current MR methods are being developed.

I didn’t ever think it was possible to have a career combining so many different things that I was interested in. But if I could go back in time, then I would tell myself to get involved with research earlier on. Especially at Bristol, there are lots of opportunities for undergraduates to help with conducting research experiments. Don’t be afraid to speak to academics.

Don’t be afraid to be passionate about something. During my undergrad, I was always going on about how fascinating I thought genetics was. Someone on my course met an academic who studied genetics of mental illness and told me about her. This turned out to be Dr Claire Haworth, my PhD supervisor. I would never have met her and done a PhD if I hadn’t of banged on all the time about how much I loved genetics!


Dr Robyn Wootton is a senior research associate in the School of Psychological Science and part of the Tobacco and Alcohol research group (TARG), who conduct research into the psychological and biological factors underlying health behaviours.


From uphill to down Dale: exploring life’s many unanswered questions

On this day in 1875 [9 June], Physiologist & Pharmacologist and Nobel Prize winner Henry Dale, was born. From failed pregnancies to wound repair, we spoke to two Sir Henry Dale Fellows in the School of Biochemistry about their research and how the fellowship for outstanding scientists is enabling them to answer some of life’s biggest questions.


Life’s great mysteries: Dr Binyam Mogessie

All human life starts with the fertilisation of an egg by a sperm. Numerous life processes that are invisible to the naked eye need to happen accurately, but unfortunately these tend to fail very often for reasons we are still trying to understand.

In my lab, we use very advanced microscopes to help us look inside mammalian eggs so that we can learn all the secrets behind how these giant cells eventually become a human being. To observe eggs in action, we use fluorescent molecular colours to label their DNA. We also label the tiny molecular machines that carry this DNA and the tracks they follow to move it from one location to another inside these large cells. We combine all of these to shoot spectacular and colourful movies of the life of an egg as it prepares itself to be fertilised by a sperm. We recently discovered that a protein called ‘Actin’ protects eggs from conditions that cause pregnancy failures and Down’s syndrome.

‘We recently discovered that a protein called ‘Actin’ protects eggs from conditions that cause pregnancy failures and Down’s syndrome.’

Since joining Bristol Biochemistry in 2018, I’m using powerful microscopes and even newer methods of studying proteins inside mammalian eggs. These advanced systems and many other research technologies in Bristol will accelerate discoveries that will help us in the future to protect human eggs from mistakes that prevent the birth of healthy babies. Being part of the vibrant School of Biochemistry means I get to work with some of the most talented young minds in the country. My long-term goal is to translate my research discoveries into treatments of human infertility and prevention of embryo deaths. This will ensure that the research we do in the lab today will ultimately have meaningful socio-economic impact that will improve human lives worldwide.

Research in my lab is supported by funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society through a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship. This generous funding has allowed us to acquire world-class imaging technologies and other tools needed to study mammalian egg development at unprecedented details. My Sir Henry Dale Fellowship has also helped me immensely in forming strong national and international scientific collaborations that continue to increase the impact of our research.

Why time doesn’t heal all wounds: Dr Helen Weavers

Our ability to regenerate, repair or ‘heal’ ourselves after injury is crucial as it seals the broken barrier and stops infection. However, unlike superheroes like Deadpool or Spider-Man, us humans (in most cases) can’t heal ourselves perfectly – we suffer problems, such as scar tissue, and for many people (including the elderly or diabetics) some wounds never heal.

‘Unlike superheroes like Deadpool or Spider-Man, us humans (in most cases) can’t heal ourselves perfectly – we suffer problems, such as scar tissue, and for many people (including the elderly or diabetics) some wounds never heal.’

In my research, I want to understand more about how our wounds heal – what do our individual cells do and which genes are involved – to help find ways we can improve the healing process. And for this, I use the fruit-fly! This might seem a surprising choice – why use an insect found in fruit bowls at home, to understand how human bodies work? But in fact, the not-so-humble fruit-fly has underpinned ground-breaking biomedical research for over a century and contributed to 5 Nobel Prizes! Fruit-flies and humans share many common organs (including a functional immune system) and 75% of human disease-causing genes. Fruit-flies are also optically translucent at many life-stages, which means we can image these fascinating processes – including the repair of wounds and recruitment of immune cells (‘inflammation’) – in real-time as they are happening live inside the fly, using fluorescently-tagged proteins to label different cell types. Fruit-flies are also ‘genetically tractable’ – meaning we can easily manipulate or ‘mutate’ individual genes to find out the gene’s function.

Bristol has been an ideal place for beginning my independent research career. It has state-of-the-art imaging equipment and brand-new facilities for breeding the flies! I’m also collaborating with researchers in a different department (‘Population Health Science’) to use real data from the human genome to help find genes important for wound repair.

By Photograph by Sir Charles Lovatt Evans


Sir Henry Dale Fellowships, a partnership between the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust, are for outstanding post-doctoral scientists wishing to build their own UK-based, independent research career addressing an important biomedical question.

It provides support for postdoctoral researchers who aim to become independent scientists leading their own groups.




Twist of fate: The Bristol DNA Double Helix Connection

On this day in 1916, Francis Crick who was responsible for discovering the double-helix structure of the DNA strand, was born [8 June]. In celebration, Professor Leo Brady from the School of Biochemistry talks about how Crick and Watson’s very first model of the DNA double helix ended up at the University of Bristol. 

In the early 1950s there were various theories about the structure of DNA, but none of these fitted the data in a way that seemed plausible. Before computers became powerful enough, the best way to test structural theories was to build physical representations using metal models. Watson and Crick decided to tackle the DNA structure problem in this way and asked the workshop in the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, where they worked, to make those parts that were not already available. They then used the available data, such as the relative proportions of the individual components and data from Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray experiments, to build various structures. The one that made both chemical and biological sense was the now-famous double helix.

‘By a strange twist of fate, this model subsequently spent many years housed within Biochemistry at Bristol.’

By a strange twist of fate, this model subsequently spent many years housed within Biochemistry at Bristol. When the fledgling Department of Biochemistry was established at the University of Bristol, many of its founding members of staff were recruited from Cambridge. This included Dr Herman Watson (no relation to James!) in 1968. When Herman Watson moved to Bristol, understandably he was keen to bring whatever surplus equipment could possibly be ‘spared’ by the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. This included several drawers of no longer used components for molecular models. Included in this mix was Watson and Crick’s now dismantled and abandoned very first model of the DNA double helix.

The model was reassembled and for many years it was discreetly displayed at one end of our undergraduate teaching laboratory. At quiet moments during the long afternoons of practical classes, many of our lecturing staff would proudly show off to our students this hand-built model with its original scribblings on the tin-plate base pairs. But possession is only nine-tenths of the law. As the fundamental importance of Watson and Crick’s seminal discovery became ever more evident, the Science Museum in London launched a hunt for this iconic model. Suffice to say they did manage to extract most of the original model which is now on display in London and viewed by nearly three million visitors annually.

Nonetheless, Bristol somehow held on to two sets of the original tin-plate hand-cut base pairs and these have been incorporated into our own (partial) replica of the very first model of the DNA double helix. To celebrate our 50th anniversary, the model was completely renovated and provided with a new display case in summer 2013. It still sits at the front of our first-year teaching laboratory. Its location here means that this inspiring model can continue to provide our students with a beautiful and unforgettable link to one of the greatest discoveries in biochemistry.


Professor Leo Brady is a structural biologist, interested in understanding biological systems at a molecular level.

This is achieved by primarily using the technique of protein crystallography. A principal focus of our studies is the study and exploitation of proteins central to human disease.



Then and now: Do labs run in the family?

By Dr Liz Carter

Like many couples, my husband and I met at Bristol – I did Microbiology; he did Biochemistry. We had some lectures and practical classes in common, which was useful because he had a better idea of what he was doing in biochemistry than I had and as he worked on the opposite side of the bench I would sometimes pinch his results when it came to writing up.

Our paths occasionally crossed socially too but it wasn’t until we moved into the same shared flat after graduating that we really became friends. A mutual friend fortunately had two spaces in her flat in Tyndall’s Park Road (now part of the BBC), conveniently close to the medical school (and Woodland Road Sports Centre). Both of us had taken opportunities to stay and study for a PhD (a technician in Biochemistry at the time used to refer to the university as a PhD factory), each in our respective departments, though Rick’s project on dental biochemistry included a lot of microbiology and mine on exotoxin production in bacteria involved some work on membrane biochemistry. Living together, we started going out for the odd drink, a game of badminton, I became the scorer for the university cricket club that Rick was a member of and later captained. It was a good time to be in Bristol.

When my three years came to an end, I moved to Surrey to work for Beechams, Rick stayed in Bristol continuing his research assistantship. We got married despite living apart, and so I narrowly avoided becoming Dr Pepper, when eventually we were granted our PhDs, having submitted just before the 5 year deadline (not to be recommended).

‘Times have changed, obviously. In our day, we hand-wrote our theses then paid a typist to print them. Graphs were drawn with letraset.’

Years later, and both then working in Surrey at opposite ends of the drug discovery process – me at the research bench, Rick in clinical trials, we had a family, two children, who followed their parents interest in science as they grew up. Our daughter now works in medical communications having done a degree in Natural Science at Cambridge; our son, Ben, following in his father’s footsteps, did a degree in biochemistry at Bristol and then stayed on, like us, to do a PhD.

On one of our visits to Bristol (we always enjoy going back), Ben was able to get us into the medical school and proudly took us to his lab. The route from the front entrance seemed vaguely familiar, along a corridor, down the stairs, along another corridor to the lab… where I had done my PhD!

Times have changed, obviously. In our day, we could just walk in to the medical school – there was little in the way of security. We hand-wrote our theses then paid a typist to print them. Graphs were drawn with letraset. Ben does it all his on his computer – much quicker and easier, and so he has no excuses for going beyond his three years. Technology has generally made a huge difference to what can be done scientifically too.

The lab looks a bit different partly due to an incursion of 3D bioprinters, but I think the floor is still the same and the place has the same feel to it. We are still in touch with others who did PhDs at the same time as us. Their children have followed a variety of career paths but as far as we know, no one else has done their PhD in the same lab as their parents.

So do labs run in families? Perhaps only this once.

Dr Ben Carter, graduated this year with a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine. The picture above is with his parents Dr Liz and Rick Carter in the C-floor lab in the Biomedical Sciences Building where they all studied.

Top 7 Happiness Hacks

Bristol became the first UK university to launch a ‘Science of Happiness’ course in 2018, designed to teach students a set of science-based strategies for living a more fulfilling life. It’s being led by eminent psychologist Professor Bruce Hood, who has carried out world-leading research into how the brain works and how human’s think.

Here’s his top 7 Happiness Hacks for International day of happiness [19 March]:

The course draws on the latest results in psychology and neuroscience to get to the root of what happiness is and how to achieve it, as well as teaching tangible practices which students can apply in their everyday lives. It’s being led by eminent psychologist Professor Bruce Hood, who has carried out world-leading research into how the brain works and how human’s think.

The Science of Happiness (SoH) course has been an extremely popular voluntary 10-week lecture series with over 800 students signing up in the first year. The course combines weekly lectures with weekly happiness hub-meetings run by undergraduate senior students who meet with 6-8 attendees to discuss mental health and well-being.

Professor Hood said: ‘Feedback on the course has been extremely positive. On measures of mental well-being, those who took the course maintained their levels of well-being over the 10-week period leading up to exams, whereas those in the waiting list control group dropped significantly on mental well-being scores over the same period.

This evaluation tells us two things: 1) the first-term is a time associated with reduced mental well-being over the 10-week period for students, and 2) those who attended the course proved to be more resilient.’

It comes amid growing concerns around the mental health and well-being of students, with 94 per cent of universities experiencing a sharp increase in the number of people trying to access support services (IPPR Report – Sept 2017). The course is one part of Bristol’s wider approach to improving wellbeing and pastoral care across the University. Bristol’s new course was inspired by Yale University’s highly-successful ‘Psychology and Good Life’ course – the most popular in its history, with one in four students enrolling.

‘Thank you so much for this inspiring course. It came just at the right time for me as I returned to my studies to reassure me that ‘hiccups’ are normal but to always persevere through to make your dreams come true, knowing people around you care, no matter how hard it is to love oneself at times(!)’ Student taking the Science of Happiness course.

Classes address a series of core issues such as whether happiness is in the genes and can really be changed, how our minds distort happiness, the role of culture in happiness, pursuing experience rather than possessions and how to reset happiness levels. Alongside the theory, students will also learn a variety of exercises to practice and reflect on how these effect happiness-levels through weekly Happiness Hubs.

‘Most people think that the path to happiness is success in jobs, salaries, material possessions, and relationships. While these goals are associated with happiness, they do not necessarily guarantee happiness and indeed, the relentless pursuit of these may actually contribute to unhappiness.’ Professor Bruce Hood.

“The course is aimed at all students and not just those who might identify as having challenges with their wellbeing. Ultimately, the aim of this course is to give students a greater understanding of what happiness is and how the human mind often sabotages happiness. Greater awareness amongst the student body will equip students to pre-empt and improve the mental health of themselves and others.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, Professor Judith Squires said: “This new course is pioneering in the UK. We hope it will be hugely beneficial to our students, not just during their time at university but throughout their lives.

“It’s an example of how our own research can directly benefit the wellbeing of our community, equipping them with the personal skills to thrive and grow in an increasingly complex world. This course is linked to our Bristol Futures initiative, which offers a range of courses and events to support our students’ wellbeing. We look forward to hearing students’ feedback on the course and to working in partnership with our students to develop it further in future years to help them flourish.”

Inspire Roadshows embark on a journey for National Science Week

The theme for national science week 2019 (11th-15th March) was journeys, so the Life and Health Sciences Outreach Team worked with multiple primary schools teaching students about the journey of blood. The schools included: Dolphin, Fairlawn, Bannerman Road, Stoke Park, Horfield and Kingfisher seeing over 1400 students in the assemblies.

All roadshows began with a whole school assembly introducing the journey of blood around the body, and got students thinking of the journey to becoming a scientist and working scientifically. The latter part of the roadshows involved 4 interactive stations allowing specific year groups of student to rotate through them all and learn about the various components of the blood.

The students were given the opportunity to learn CPR allowing them to increase awareness of bystander CPR. The students were taken through the DR.ABC protocol and shown methods of compressions, which they then practiced on the Annie training mannequins. With the help of the Annie skills guide each student had the opportunity to perfect their skills. We discussed the importance of teamwork while completing CPR and practised changing over who was giving the compressions.

Next stop, Red blood cells! We discussed the purpose of red blood cells and how they move around the body. With the help of a plasticised Ox heart the students learnt about the different chambers of the heart and thought about why the muscle thickness varies. With the help of a life size plastic model, the students were able to learn about the physiological composition of the body. Just like true scientists, the students undertook an experiment to find out what affect exercise has on heart rate! The students made a hypothesis and then put it to the test using pulse oximeters to measure their heart rates before and after exercise. The students were able to identify why the heart rate increases due to the demands of the muscles. Each group also witnessed a live ECG of one of their peers, this made many students very excited and got them asking lots of questions about becoming doctors.

‘It was brilliant for children to see scientists in action in the real world. Particularly female role models in different professions.’ Teacher

Ever wondered why we don’t bleed out when we cut ourselves? Well these students certainly know why! At this station they explored the roles of platelets in the body using a Velcro drain pipe model to visualise how these fragments work together to seal a cut. With the use of fun clay models the students learnt about the platelets ability to change shape and aggregate together. At the end of this station the students learnt about how bacteria use platelets to hide from the immune system- just like the invisibility cloak in harry potter!

Leading on from the last station the students learnt about white blood cells and their role in our immune systems. With the help of fluffy microbes’ students learnt about different classes of microbes and discussed how they can be good and bad. Students discussed the important of being hygienic, using some glow gel and UV light we looked at how pathogens can be passed around even if you think your hands are clean. Finally, students were all allocated cards with different immune cells and pathogens on, they had to devise a silent communication between themselves when a pathogen was spotted. Upon the signal all WBC cards must silently surround the pathogen preventing infection.

‘The pitch was good with lots of interactive roles for the children to take.  The 4 workshops during the hour was a good length and all the children were very engaged due to the child centred activities and resources.  Relevant information for children’s ages was given.’ Teacher.

A year 6 teacher stated that ‘The workshops were well paced and the children were highly engaged. They got to use equipment that we don’t have access to in school such as ECG machines and pulse oximeters. It was very relevant to our topic and covered all of the curriculum objectives in a way that was pitched ideally to our pupils. It was challenging for the children but because of the knowledgeable staff, they were all able to access it and all learnt a lot from the session.’