LIYSF asked our President, Professor Clare Elwell to reflect upon her experience of attending LIYSF as a participant and her academic journey since then. Here's what Clare had to say about her experience from LIYSF.
1. When did you attend LIYSF and what was it like coming to LIYSF?
I attended LIYSF in the summer of 1984. I have particularly vivid memories of watching all the flags being paraded in during the opening ceremony and realising I was part of something very special. Initially I felt somewhat intimidated (Was I clever enough to be there? Would I make friends? Would I be homesick?), but as I started to talk to the other students I began to relax and after that I threw myself into all the activities and loved every minute. Below is a picture of me during the programme!
2. What’s the importance of getting young people into science?
In the Faculty of Engineering, where I work at University College London (UCL), we have a strap line “Change the World”. That’s exactly what we need young people to do. This generation have been raised as being bi-lingual in technology in a way that my generation wasn’t and I believe they can harness this advantage to use science and engineering to change the world for the better.
3. In a few words, how would you describe your two weeks at LIYSF?
I was lucky enough to receive sponsorship from BP to attend LIYSF and as a result was asked to write a report of my experiences at the forum. Here’s an extract from that report which sums up what the event meant to me:
“LIYSF has given me the opportunity to live and work at close quarters with other young people of the same age and interests and to meet and keep in contact with young scientists who will be following varied careers all over the world. My mind has also been opened to many aspects of science and having seen this diversity of disciplines I feel more knowledgeable in making my ultimate choice”
4. What parts of LIYSF inspired you the most?
I was most inspired by a day visit to the Royal Marsden Hospital Institute of Cancer Research where I was first introduced to the topic of Medical Physics. I got to see first-hand how physics and engineering play such a vital role in healthcare and it was this visit that inspired me to pursue a career in this area.
5. Are you still in contact with people from LIYSF?
I stayed in contact with many students I met, mostly by letter (don’t forget this was pre email/social media!). I was delighted to recently find that one of these students is now a Consultant Haematologist at UCLH – just around the corner from where I work at UCL.
I was at a conference in Germany last summer and brought up the subject of LIYSF. To my surprise a clinical colleague from Australia whom I have known for several years revealed that he too had attended LIYSF! Here I am with that clinical colleague Justin Skowno and the LIYSF Director, Richard Myhill on a recent trip to Australia to speak at a conference hosted by Justin. It’s so great to make these connections and to see the impact the LIYSF has had on so many people.
6. What in particular made you want to study brain imaging in Gambia? What was it like to lead a Bill and Melinda Gates project (The BRIGHT Project)
My research involves developing novel optical technologies for imaging the human brain. Among other projects I have been using these technologies to understand how infants’ brains develop and the how early life experiences can affect this. As part of this work I lead the Brain Imaging for Global Health (BRIGHT) project. This project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is focussed on understanding the impact of malnutrition, disease and poverty on some of the world’s poorest children. It’s a sad statistic that one third of these children will fail to reach their full potential because of the adversity they have faced in their first days, weeks and months of life. Our BRIGHT project is using these new optical brain imaging systems to better understand exactly what is happening in these infants brains and to inform on which interventions (e.g. nutritional supplements) can protect them. I’m incredibly proud of the BRIGHT project, not least because it resulted in the first ever brain imaging of infants in Africa. I’m excited by the potential of our new technology in opening up a whole new research field in global health and I believe it’s a great example of using physics and engineering to change the world. This picture shows me with the BRIGHT project in action in the Gambia.
7. What are your top tips for giving young participants advice on following through with their research ideas?
Be brave, be ambitious, be persistent. Change the world.