Professor Stein, professor of neurophysiology at the University of Oxford, captivated an audience of over 200 pupils, parents and visiting guests at Portsmouth High School.
His talk entitled, ‘Wobble, warbles and fish: why neuroscience is so fascinating’ enraptured the audience.
‘The brain contains a hundred billion nerve cells,’ he began. ‘So it is the most complex organised structure in the whole Universe. Its main job is to represent the outside world, and your experiences, in order for you to predict the immediate and more distant future and in order to adapt your behaviour in the light of those predictions.
‘Most of our current understanding of how the brain works has depended on experiments in animals. Just as to understand how a car engine works we have to take it apart and see how the bits work together, so we need to do this in animals to work out how the human brain performs its miracles.’
He went on to talk about Parkinson’s disease and the treatment for dyslexia. 10% of children, particularly boys, have real difficulties in learning to read because a subsystem in their brains called the magnocellular system fails to develop quite properly. The functions of this magnificent the system were discovered through experiments in rats, cats and monkeys. These experiments suggested some very simple solutions to their problems such as viewing text through yellow or blue filters or teaching children to listen for musical rhythms.
‘Magnocellular neurones are also highly vulnerable to lack of essential fatty acids that are normally supplied in your diet by eating oily fish. Hence we have discovered that giving dyslexic children oily fish often helps them with their reading.’
Holly Giles, 18, currently studying for her A levels at Portsmouth High School said: ‘It was amazing to realise the potential of science. This is our generation’s future.’
Kate McMurrugh, 17, also studying for her A levels added: ‘It was interesting and inspiring to hear from such an expert on an area of science that I really want to go into. It was brilliant to see and hear about the practical applications of the biology we have been studying in this year.’
Bria Grange, 17, in Lower Sixth added: ‘I liked the fact that he has his own opinions and it was fascinating to hear his personal thoughts on whether there would be, for instance, a cure for Alzheimer’s.’
Visiting guests included pupils from St John’s College and Portsmouth Academy for Girls.
‘It was really interesting’ said Clare Robinson, 15, from Portsmouth Academy for Girls. ‘I am hoping to study Criminal Law and there were really relevant parts of Professor Stein’s talk that directly related to that.’
‘The talk was fascinating,’ added Rhiannon Jones, 18, from St John’s College. ‘The part about deep brain stimulation, which could be related to the treatment of depression, was so interesting.’
Mrs Anthea Hunter, Head of Science at Portsmouth High School added: ‘This was a highly stimulating talk to inspire future scientists by sowing seeds of interest at a formative time. We were delighted that Professor Stein came to talk at the school.’
‘How marvellous the audience were,’ concluded Professor Stein. ‘Interesting and thoughtful questions were asked and I loved their enthusiasm.’