Public Engagement

A core mission of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre is to contribute to society through a better understanding of brain function. We engage with a variety of audiences including school and college students, the local Fitzrovia community, and groups currently under-served by university engagement and in particular scientific branches of study.

Everyone at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre is encouraged to take part in public engagement activities with the goal of generating mutual benefit and enhancing the quality and impact of our research. Support is provided through training opportunities and monthly Public Engagement Network meetings.

What is the Public Engagement Network?

The SWC Public Engagement Network (PEN) is open to all students, researchers and staff members at the SWC and the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit (GCNU). The Network is for those who have an interest in, or experience of, public engagement.

Network members meet once a month to share, reflect and develop ideas for engagement activities and discuss upcoming opportunities. Members also receive regular emails outlining available opportunities and ways to get involved.

If you are a student, researcher or staff member at SWC or GCNU and would like to join the Network or learn more about public engagement opportunities, please contact our Communications Manager.

Past events

Spring 2019        Dear Neuroscience

The SWC will be hosting a series of ‘Dear Neuroscience’ events where artists, crafters, parents and neuroscientists join forces to co-create explorations of neuroscience "in the wild". Neuroscience research today focuses heavily on studying nervous systems in sterile and predictable environments, but brains evolved in the messy, unpredictable world full of the unknown and the unexpected. 

Neuroscience now has the technology to complement laboratory research with fieldwork, which we believe to be crucial for understanding the human mind. “Dear Neuroscience” will provide the opportunity for artists, crafters and parents of young children, who have each refined a highly motivated and skillfully observant relationship with wild neural phenomena, to share their questions, insights, and hopes with the neuroscience community. 

Find out more about the Dear Neuroscience Touch and Proprioception Event on Friday 24 May

May 2019            Big Bang @ School Event

On 10 May 2019, SWC PhD students, researchers and staff engaged in a Big Bang @ School Event at William Perkin High School in Greenford, West London. Year 10 students took part in an interactive neuroscience quiz debunking common myths about the brain and then rotated through three different activities including a robot demonstration, a microfluidics exercise and the chance to control someone else's arm with their brain!

SWC students and staff teach secondary school students

March 2019        Brain Awareness Week

As part of Brain Awareness Week (March 11-17, 2019) we launched an animation on the research questions we focus on at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre. We also shared 13 fascinating facts about the brain from leading neuroscientists and 5 common myths about neuroscience.

January 2019       Westminster Kingsway Lab Tour

A-Level Psychology and Biology students from local college Westminster Kingsway visited the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in January for a lab tour. Following an introductory neuroscience talk, the students met with researchers, visited the labs, the microscopy facility and the fabrication workshop. They also had the chance to see and hear the electrical activity from their brain when tensing their arm muscle and tried out controlling someone else's arm with their brain! 

Westminster Kingsway College Students Lab Tour

December 2018        Public Lecture, by Professor Daniel Dennett

American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist Professor Daniel Dennett gave the SWC Public Lecture 2018 titled 'Answering the Hard Question by Composing the Inner Witness'. Over 140 people attended this lecture including local students on the Social Mobility Foundation programme. Read more

September 2018        New Scientist Live

The SWC exhibited a range of interactive demonstrations at New Scientist Live this year including visual illusions, Flavour SenseNation activities, a VR demo and jelly brain dissections. Find out more about our stand.

New Scientist Live Volunteers

July 2018        Social Mobility Foundation Tour

The SWC recently hosted a group of students from the Social Mobility Foundation programme, which is open to students across the UK who are eligible for Free School Meals, or will be the first generation in their families to attend university having attended a school with a significant proportion of pupils on FSM, and who are predicted at least ABB at A-Level and have obtained at least five A grades at GCSE.

After a short talk on how the brain works, the students were taken on tours of the different labs in the building and shown demonstrations on anatomy, innate behaviour, virtual reality (VR) and advanced manufacturing. Finally, they attended lunch with students, staff and researchers at the SWC where discussions continued. 

Ed Bracey talk to students

June 2018        Orchestrating the Brain

In collaboration with FitzFest, a local community music and culture festival, the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre was pleased to present ‘Orchestrating the brain’ a stimulating workshop exploring the fusion of music and neuroscience.

The vision behind the event sprung from conversations between musicians and neuroscientists and the shared concepts of neurons in the brain functioning like instruments in an orchestra, but with one perplexing difference – as far as we know, there is no ‘conductor’ in the brain.


Through a series of interactive exercises, musicians and neuroscientists worked together to delve into the connections between music and neuroscience and even attempted to play brain activity data generated by the SWC researchers as if they were notes on a player piano.

After a lively panel discussion, both musicians and neuroscientists were left with a many more questions to explore including: Why is it easier to remember words when set to music? Do certain notes have specific effects on brainwave frequencies and emotions? Which (if any) animals respond emotionally to music?

April 2018        Brain Camp Kosovo

A group of five PhD students from the SWC led a week-long intensive neuroscience programme in Kosovo with the goal of motivating and inspiring young people to invest their time in science.

Thanks to the Kosovan Ambassador to the UK, the SWC collaborated with ATOMI, an organization that identifies and supports children with extraordinary intelligence (IQ 140 and above, 99.6 percentile rank – top 0.4% of the population). 

The week long programme was a great success and also gave the students a chance to ask the SWC some challenging questions on the brain including: Why do we sleepwalk? What is synaesthesia? What happens when we have anxiety or panic attacks? What happens when we experience adrenaline? How plastic is the mature brain? Where do memories get stored and how are they retrieved? Are there differences between an average person’s brain and Einstein’s brain? How does the brain represent the passing of time? 

Neuroscience Notebook

March 2018        Brain Bee

The SWC was pleased to host the London Brain Bee championship during Brain Awareness Week 2018. The Brain Bee competition brings together secondary school students aged 14-19 and aims to inspire and motivate participants to learn more about the brain and explore potential careers in neuroscience.


After a welcome session, where the SWC launched the first of a series of Neuropeople videos, offering advice to students interested in neuroscience, the students completed a multiple choice quiz on a range of topics including: intelligence, emotion, memory, sleep, vision, hearing, sensation and a number of neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression and addiction.

There was also a series of practical demonstrations over lunchtime including a jelly brain dissection, visual illusions and an interactive activity exploring the hidden science behind our appreciation of food. These were followed by some fascinating talks on careers in neuroscience.

Finally, the excitement continued with a nail-biting "spelling bee" style final round. After as tense tie-breaker for the top place, the final results were announced and the winners went through to the National Brain Bee competition.

Jelly brain dissection

March 2018        Neuropeople

The recent boom in allegations of ‘fake news’ has driven trust in experts to an all-time low. To try to encourage more confidence back into the scientific community, the SWC created a series of ‘Neuropeople’ videos where neuroscientists were asked questions on free will, brain hacks, advice for those interested in neuroscience and the future of the field. 

The films featured experts from the SWC, Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, King's College London, Imperial College London and the Francis Crick Institute and are all available on our YouTube channel.

November 2017        SWC Annual Lecture, by Professor Frans de Waal

Professor Frans de Waal captivated attendees of the 2017 SWC Annual Lecture on Animal Emotions and Empathy. Open to all, including local secondary school students, Professor de Waal gave a fascinating history of the study of emotions followed by an enlightening discussion of empathy, consolation and emotional contagion.

September 2017        New Scientist Live

The SWC exhibited at New Scientist Live 2017, sharing our science with an engaged and curious audience of over 30,000 people. Our stand included anatomy and VR demonstrations along with a video on what neural circuits are and some of the techniques we use at the SWC to try to understand them. 

March 2017    Brain Awareness Week

As part of BAW - a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research - children from years 5 and 6 of All Souls Primary School in Fitzrovia visited the SWC to find out more about how the brain works. The children took part in a range of hands-on activities including jelly brains and an electrophysiology experiment.

March 2017    Rewired: the Brain, Art and Innovation

Members of the SWC Public Engagement Network took part in an inspiring evening featuring connections between neuroscience, art and health. Group leader Dr Adam Kampff presented a talk on enhancing intelligence with virtual reality, while others engaged audience members with our research, using a QR code web link on one of our squeezy brains.

Squeezy brain

December 2016        SWC Annual Lecture, by Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough gave the inaugural Annual Lecture on 7 December 2016 at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre. His talk 'Beauty and The Beasts' focused on the aesthetic sensation in birds. 

Over 140 people attended this public event, including local community members from Fitzrovia as well as secondary school groups from Camden.

You can see part of the lecture on our YouTube channel.

December 2016        SWC Lab Tour for Schools

Students from the UCL Academy and Regent High School visited the SWC and were given a tour of the laboratories ahead of hearing from a number of post docs and group leaders about the research they do and how it is relevant.