‘My name is Clare Elwell, I’m a Professor of Medical Physics at University College London, and I like brain imaging and swimming. And doughnuts.’

When we visited Clare on Wednesday I was somewhat enchanted by the nuts-and-bolts creative chaos of the workshop she shares with her colleagues. Tubs of components, rolls of wire and a soldering iron or two sit alongside coloured maps of brain regions. On the bench opposite is a slightly unsettling array of plastic babies’ heads with various markings and devices attached to them; Clare tells me the decapitated doll bodies are languishing in a cupboard somewhere. Also to be found in in the lab were a homemade quad-copter with fetching blue and red LEDs, and a drawer labelled ‘BANANA CROC’.  We wheeled out a large imaging unit named MONSTIR to make room for filming and asked Clare about her extraordinary work.

The team at UCL, in collaboration with Sarah Lloyd-Fox and the Birkbeck Babylab, is working on a safe, cheap and unobtrusive method to look at babies’ brains, which could give vital insight into the effect of malnutrition on brain development in infancy. Clare explains it much better than I could, so keep an eye out for our upcoming video for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation!


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