Fiddling around the Brain Song

So I finally got round to recording the song based on She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain I wrote about Music and the Brain. I originally wrote this for the BIG Best Demo Competition 2014.

It’s a rough recording, but I had fun doing it, and definitely will be doing more combining the fiddle with science communication in the future!

The lyrics are as follows:

“I’ll be using my frontal cortex for this song,
When I decide to play a tune it won’t take long
To raise oxygen metabolic rates,
as the rest of brain it orchestrates
I’ll be using my frontal cortex for this song,

Singing my my frontal cortex
Connected white fibre bundles

Signals from my motor cortex move my hand,
Just across the scalp it lies like a head band.
to the right, the left brain beckons,
at 120 metres a second
Signals from my motor cortex move my hand,

Singing my my motor cortex
It’s the movement promoter.

Sound vibrations enter my ears from the side,
And that’s where the temporal cortex does abide
understanding words as well as chords,
triggering dopamine reward,
Sound vibrations enter my ears from the side,

Singing my my temporal cortex
It hears and smells in general,

Now I’ve reached the end of my ode to the brain,
I could go on as the scope of it’s insane
Yes, That pink goo’s to be admired, no wonder I’m so freaking tired,
Playing the fiddle fiddles all my brain

Singing Frontal Motor Temporal cortex
And the rest of the brain in general”

BIG Event 2013 and Best Demo Competition

I wrote this report for the British Interactive Group, a group of public engagement professionals, for the BIG Event 2013 at Glasgow Science Centre, where I was kindly awarded a bursary to attend.

I arrived at my first BIG Event not sure what to expect, but ready to meet and learn from a group promised to be “people like me”: people who loved science and loved sharing this with people. I wasn’t disappointed.

Beginning with mathematically engineered icebreaker, the science communication geekery only went up from there over the three days. Sometimes it was more traditional, sharing innovative techniques teachers like Dave Porter and Lucy Moorcraft use in the classroom. Some were much more practical, looking at the importance of evaluation or thinking about funding for events. Others were just a riot, such as the improvisation workshop with Science Made Simple: communicating and team building just won’t ever be the same again (but rather based on the crowds random suggestions).


Then there was the BIG Demo competition. Perhaps I didn’t quite know what I let myself in for when I applied, but after the first day of the meeting, I decided to ditch my tried-and-tested routine in favour of taking the opportunity to develop a long time pipedream of mine: a song about the brain’s effect on music. “Fiddling around the Brain” was thus born on the train back to Edinburgh Wednesday night, a calculated risk, but I wanted to be adventurous and I felt BIG would love a sing along. On all three counts I was correct, in that it was fun, people joined in but the intensity of the moment meant I forgot quite a few of the words.  Still, I was content with something a wee bit different and with the seal broken, I’ll keep developing this in the future.


I very much enjoyed the other demos as all the performers did very well and I learnt something from all of them: there should be more dances in routines, words aren’t necessary to communicate, jenga is unpredictable, and as the ultimate winners Marcin and Blazej proved, how there are always new, inventive ways of doing chestnut demos.

And ultimately, that’s kind of the point. The BIG event allows us to break out of our often insular bubbles of public engagement, to meet and share ideas with other Science Communicators who often have very different ideas of how to engage with the public. As I begin to develop more of my own projects like Deadinburgh beyond my native Edinburgh International Science Festival or Edinburgh University, the more I realise that sharing, debating and collaboration is how we develop as communicators, keeping it fresh, relevant and jolly good fun. And that’s the joy of Science Communication after all.

Here’s a phone recording of first part of the BIG Demo Competition (I play and forget the words near the end of this clip!)

Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Brain

Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Brain

One of my favourite facts I liked to tell people during Deadinburgh was that the average brain, if smoothied, would be about 2-2.5 pints worth, depending on sex, age, ethnicity.

This is based on a paper which looked at 8000 autopsies, male brains from German, where adult weighed 1336 and 1198 grams for males and females respectively (Hartmann et al. 1994), which works out to be 2.34/2.09 pints.



Hartmann, P., Ramseier, A., Gudat, F., Mihatsch, M. J., Polasek, W., & Geisenhoff, C. (1994). Das Normgewicht des Gehirns beim Erwachsenen in Abhngigkeit von Alter, Geschlecht, Krpergre und Gewicht. Der Pathologe, 15(3), 165–170. doi:10.1007/s002920050040

Starting Write Now.

My previous wordpress attempts have been a collection of good intentions, first posts and sometimes not even that. There’s Folk Neuroscience, the travel come science come music blog I tried to start when I headed out to Montreal, or Science of Mice & Men, one blog of many I tried to start with fellow neuroscientist Kyler at McGill. I’ve always had plenty to say, but there’s never been enough time.

Story of everyone’s life really.

Well, now I’ve graduated from university, and I’m doing cool projects (like zombie science-theatre collaboration Deadinburgh), teaching science in cool places (I’ve just got back from Bangalore, India) and researching and just learning so much cool stuff in neuroscience, I want to make an effort. Twitter’s great, but often too short: it’s microblogging after all.

My brain’s digesting lots of stuff and ideas are bursting from it and I want to let them out, and write them down. But like everything, it doesn’t just happen. You have to make the time for it. And ideally, not time borrowed procrastinating from writing that research paper on chimpanzee brain shape asymmetries you promised your supervisor.

So it’ll be done. There’s lot’s of brainfart to go out,  stories to tell, tunes to share and science to ponder.

Time to let it rip!