Q&A with BrainFacts.org Incoming Editor-in-Chief Richard Wingate
Under the steady guidance of outgoing Editor-in-Chief (EiC) John Morrison, BrainFacts.org entered a new era in 2017 with a full redesign featuring new functionality and a scientifically accurate interactive 3D model of the brain. Now, the newly appointed EiC for BrainFacts.org, Richard Wingate, a reader (professor) in the MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at Kings College, London, is taking the helm to build on BrainFacts.org’s success.
As Head of Anatomy at King’s College London, Wingate comes to post of EiC with established scientific credentials. However, he also has a passion for communicating science to non-scientific audiences. To do this, he has collaborated on a variety of public engagement projects across a range of media. He was scientific advisor for the Wellcome Collection’s “Brain: the Mind as Matter” exhibition (2012) and has served on Wellcome Trust panels for Science and Art, Society (Pulse), Arts, Arts Production and the Hub selection. He is a member of the Public Education and Communication Committee of SfN and serves on the advisory boards of the Old Operating Theatre Museum, London, and the Science Gallery UK.
Wingate sat down with SfN during Neuroscience 2018 to talk about his thoughts and vision as he takes over as BrainFacts.org’s third editor-in-chief.
NQ: How did you get interested in neuroscience?
RW: My interest in neuroscience, like most of my colleagues and the general public, stems from the fact that we all have a brain. And, we all use a brain, constantly. We all have a theory of mind and how our brain is working. So, we are inherently interested in how our brains work, what they do for us. And, if you have the privilege of being a scientist, as I do, then you also get to explore the very nuts and bolts of how your brain is developing and how it’s used to see, sense, feel, and think.
NQ: What is the focus of your research?
RW: My research group studies the development of the brain with a special interest in how networks develop. We mainly work on the cerebellum, which integrates sensory and motor information to allow the brain to predict errors and learn from mistakes. In addition, hearing networks in the brainstem also borrow some of the same genes and nerve cell architecture to do their job. The re-use of genes and brain cell components to different jobs raises really interesting questions about how information is processed. Also, how a basic plan can be adapted to different functions and moreover, how networks evolved are both fascinating questions that we are fortunate to be able to work on. Our research took off with the revolution in gene technology. The possibilities for advancing understanding of the brain have never been greater.
NQ: Why do you think BrainFacts.org is important?
RW: BrainFacts.org, which produced by SfN and supported from inception by the Kavli Foundation and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, is designed for and serves a very diverse audience. It is a site for the science-interested public to learn about the fundamental workings of the healthy brain and what happens when the brain isn’t healthy. It’s the place for school kids to get the information they need to complete an assignment about the brain. Educators who are designing lesson plans about the brain can find activities and resources. As the field of neuroscience continues to expand, people like me and my colleagues can turn to BrainFacts.org to learn about unfamiliar aspects of neuroscience.
NQ: What is your favorite part of BrainFacts.org today?
RW: The great thing about BrainFacts.org today is that it pools together information with great stories about how scientists explore the brain, how the brain works, and what happens when the brain goes wrong. For example, if you’re searching for facts about Parkinson’s disease, you may go to a site which is specifically designed for sufferers of that condition. But at BrainFacts.org, you will get the context of how Parkinson’s disease specifically affects the brain. So, you can learn about the basal ganglia in an easy digestible fashion in the context of health and disease. You really get the complete picture.
NQ: Why is storytelling important for helping non-neuroscientists understand the brain and brain research?
RW: Our brains have evolved to be in tune with stories. It’s how we interpret the world that we live in. So, if we can present facts about the brain as stories, it’s immediately compelling and interesting.
Storytelling is great way to give context to facts. A site called “Brain Facts” could be quite a dry gift to the public. By making the information personal and relevant, we can make it more memorable and effective.
NQ: As the new editor-in-chief, what is your vision for BrainFacts.org?
RW: Since its launch in 2012, BrainFacts.org has established itself as a primary resource for facts about the brain. It has great reach, but I’d like to see that reach expand, particularly amongst an international audience. I’d like to see BrainFacts.org content reach most parts of the globe. In addition to just seeing the size of our audience shoot up, I’d also like to see us focus on using the content on the site in imaginative ways so that it can be accessed on different platforms.
One of my passions is education, and we have a great opportunity to provide excellent resources for educators and to be a center for the exchange of ideas about how we teach the brain. So, I’m hoping that as a trusted and reliable venue for information about the brain, BrainFacts.org can become the primary source of authenticated facts about the brain presented in an engaging way that can be used by everyone.
Make neuroscience come alive in the classroom: Visit BrainFacts.org and check out our latest educator resources.