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A portrait of my brain
By Brady Haran
East Midlands Today video journalist Brady Haran decided to be a science guinea pig. Here he explains how researchers "photographed" his brain.
I arrived at the University of Nottingham in a relaxed mood, met by Dr Richard Ramsey from the psychology department.
I know Richard quite well, and he explained what would happen when I entered the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.
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Brady's brain was captured with an MRI scanner
I'd be shown a series of films - but because it's a tight squeeze, these videos would be watched via a series of mirrors aimed at a screen outside the scanner!
With forms filled out and health checks done, I was led to the scanning room.
I made sure there were no coins in my pockets and my watch was removed (I was about enter a giant magnet, after all!), then scanner operator Kay put me in place.
I wore ear plugs and headphones (the machine's very loud) and was given an emergency button to press if I felt panicked or wanted to stop.
Then I lay on my back and a mask-type contraption was placed over my head, before Kay slid me into the confined tube.
I was told not to move, especially not to my head, while the scanning took place... But it was so tight in there, I doubt I could have moved if I tried.
Kay would occasionally speak to me via the headphones, but the whole process was quite solitary.
Oranges and cricket balls
I watched a series of videos prepared by Dr Ramsey, and have to say they were mind-numbingly dull.
Essentially it was just a series of people picking up objects from a table, like oranges, hammers and cricket balls.
Occasionally a question would pop up on the screen - like "Did the woman have dark hair?" - which I answered by pressing buttons in my left and right hands.
I later learned that answers to these questions were irrelevant - they were simply put there to make sure I concentrated on the videos.
As I watched, Kay and Dr Ramsey were capturing countless images of my brain, monitoring the blood and oxygen flow.
Dr Ramsey will now use the data - and that taken from about 20 other volunteers - to better understand the brain.
In particular he wants to know how the brain works when we're trying to understand the behaviour and actions of our fellow humans.
It was quite painless in the scanner, though I did suffer some initial dizziness which I kept to myself (I was later told this is quite common, especially on the more powerful scanners).
The biggest problem was towards the end when I had an itchy nose but could not move my arms to scratch it!
All volunteers receive £10 for their troubles, but the greater incentive is the brain portrait presented at the end.
Mine is shown at the top of the page, but it is worth noting this "prettier" structural scan is not of great scientific interest to Dr Ramsey.
He will be using the many "volume scans" taken as I watched the videos, and closely comparing how my brain reacted to each one I watched.
last updated: 18/06/2008 at 18:35