Associate Professor Stuart Clare
Director of Operations, Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging
When did you first get interested in the brain?
During my physics degree at Nottingham University, I carried out a short project on the psychophysics of music. It was frustrating to get such variation in the measurements we were making of people’s perceptions, and I thought it would be fascinating to be able to quantitatively measure brain activity. Fortunately, BOLD fMRI just been demonstrated and I carried out my PhD investigating methods for fMRI on the first 3 Tesla MRI scanner in the UK.
Who has inspired you during your career?
I have been very fortunate to work with some really inspiring scientists. I first worked with Irene Tracey when she came to Nottingham to run some fMRI experiments before FMRIB was established. I was delighted to move to Oxford as the Centre here opened. Irene’s ability to excite and motivate the people around her, as well as her personal encouragement, has meant a lot to me over my career.
What area of research do you work in
I work with the excellent neuroscientists, mathematicians and physicists at the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging (WIN), developing methods to use MRI to study the brain. I am particularly focussed on getting the best out of our 7 Tesla MRI scanner, developing techniques to reduce distortions in the scans with a method called dynamic shimming.
Tell us about the outreach work you have been doing
It is such a privilege to be studying as fascinating an organ as the brain, with the expensive and technologically advanced tools of MRI. I’m really keen to let others into this world and perhaps inspire them to be involved as well. Working closely with Holly Bridge, I have spent time in primary and secondary schools, explaining how MRI works, and how you need a diverse team to carry out modern neuroscience. It has also been a lot of fun to work with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Ashmolean, running drop-in events and playing ‘brain snap’ with passers-by. We have been running a competition alongside the ‘Brain Diaries’ exhibition, finding out what experiments the public would run if they had the chance.
What advice would you give to young researchers who want to raise their public engagement profile
If you have your own idea about who you want to engage with and what activity you want to try, then why not run your ideas past someone who is already involved in public engagement. I have been surprised how many people there are in the University who can help you out, so speak to your Department public engagement co-ordinator and see if they can connect you in. If you are not sure where to start, but want to give it a go, then look out for the numerous opportunities there are to just help out. Curiosity Carnival is coming up at the end of this month, and the museums regularly want volunteer demonstrators. And if actually speaking to the public isn’t your thing, then there are opportunities to work on online projects, or perhaps build some ‘props’ for others to use.
What do you do outside the lab?
With my children being 8 and 12, and very active and sporty, I spend much of my time out of the lab taking them to various activities around Oxford. When we do get the time though we love being together by the beach on the south coast near my parents. I try to get out cycling when I can, and enjoy times catching up with church friends.
What’s your favourite film/book/music?
I love musicals, and I really enjoyed the almost Oscar winner, ‘La-La Land’. Long before coming to Oxford I was a fan of the Inspector Morse TV series and I still watch them and their spin-offs. Alexander McCall Smith’s ’44 Scotland Street’ series of books have been my holiday favourites for many years.