Just a quick one this month to announce that Lliana Bird and I are taking our Geek Chic Weird Science podcast to a few festivals over the summer to record in front of a live audience. If you’d like to come along we’ll be launching Geek Chic Live at the Cheltenham Science Festival 13:45-14:45 on Sat 10th June 2017 in the BBC Science tent. Tickets must be booked in advance so here’s the info:
On the 3rd January I went for a dip in a freezing cold lake in the Dutch countryside with a man who has learned to control his immune system using breathing techniques in combination with cold water immersion.
Between January and May I wrote a book Mice Who Sing For Sex with my Geek Chic podcast co-host Lliana Bird. That hit the shelves in October and flew off them in the run up to Christmas.
I flew out to the USA to work with a pair of NFL superstars and a supercar test driver to talk about how high performance athlete‘s brains work compared to the rest of us.
An unexpected opportunity to appear on the sofa with Rylan for Big Brother’s Bit on the Side gave me the opportunity to use five brightly coloured jelly brains as colour code for different brain functions and used them to explain the cause of various errant behaviours exhibited by some of this year’s contestants.
Participating in a debate organised by the Wellcome Trust on the Latitude Festival’s Literature Stage opened my eyes to the Porn Perspective.
My TV highlight has to be a very enjoyable weekend that I spent spy on some unsuspecting guinea pigs with the BBC’s Michael Mosley a TV presenter of considerable experience and acclaim. Meet The Humans (working title) will be broadcast at some point on BBC Earth throughout the world in 2017. I learned a huge amount about what being a TV presenter is really all about and felt truly privileged to work with him and a crack team of Science TV producers and directors from BBC Bristol. Seeing how they all handled what was a huge logistical undertaking, with so many moving parts that innumerable things could have gone wrong, was a real privilege. All hands on deck performed with tremendous competence, efficiency and good humour throughout; even when the pressure was on and Sod’s Law threatened to tip the apple cart.
The most notable achievement of this year career-wise is that, for the very first time, a show I’ve presented has been deemed worthy of a second series; not to mention a runner’s up prize for Best Science Series of 2016 at the Association for International Broadcaster’s Awards. Not bad considering we were pipped to the post by a documentary about a near perfectly preserved 5,000 year old man thawed out from a melting glacier. That’s pretty steep competition and I was only too happy to concede defeat to a series documenting such an extraordinary scientific discovery.
Looking forward to 2017 there’s already plenty of exciting projects in the pipeline. My third book Science of Sin, scheduled for publication next autumn, is coming on leaps and bounds. I’ve wanted to write a book about the light neuroscience might be able to cast on the topic of Why We Do The Things We Know We Shouldn’t for ages. I’m very grateful to Bloomsbury Sigma for the opportunity to immerse myself in such a fascinating and diverse body of science.
Filming for Secrets of the Brain 2 is already underway and, after the intensive period of filming, editing and voiceover ahead in the next four months, that particular seires scheduled to be ready for broadcast on www.insight.tv (ch 279 on Sky) over the summer. Happily it seems we’ve been able to re-recruit most of the team from series one. It is fortuitous that we could get almost everyone back because there really is no substitute for prior experience with this kind of show.
The speaking circuit this year has taken me all over London, to Cheltenham, the Midlands, Barcelona, twice to Cologne courtesy of ITV Global / Germany and as far East as Berlin. My Neuroscience of Creativity talk always seems to go down particularly well and the C-HR festival of Creativity and Innovation, which took place in a beautiful architectural space – an abandoned department store slap bang in the centre of Berlin – was no exception. I must have hit a new Personal Best by answering questions from the audience for longer than the actual duration of the talk itself (90min talk, 150min Q&A)!
Of all the ways I communicate the fruits of neuroscience research to the world, it’s the face-to-face contact with live audiences that I get the most personal satisfaction from. People always seem to have burning questions about their own brains, their kids, their ageing relatives and it gives me great pleasure to share what I know with others. So if you have an event coming up for which you have need of a motivational speaker that brings something a little different to the event, why not get in touch? I’ve got five 60-90 min talks, I can take off the shelf: Boosting Performance, Neuroscience of Decisions, Neuroscience of Creativity, Dealing with Change and even one on Gender Neuroscience that has turned out to be pretty effective at encouraging greater equality in the workplace.
That said I’m always happy to make something bespoke to fit the specific event. I’m always happy to stick around afterward if the crowd fancies making the Q&A a bit more informal.
All that remains to be said is to wish you happy holidays and a fantastic 2017.
If you’d like to follow me on Twitter (@drjacklewis) you’ll get my daily tweets that flag the best of the neuroscience news that hits the lay press. The Geek Chic Weird Science podcast is still going strong after nearly three years, which can be accessed through iTunes, Podbay, Libsyn and many other podcast providers so if you fancy taking a lighter look at the world of science, that’s your badger. And finally, you’re at a loose end over the holiday season and fancy a break from the usual TV fare, then why not catch up on the (nearly) award-winning Secrets of the Brain by pointing your internet towards www.insight.tv (my parents are actually doing that right now…)
In my 8 years of presenting / contributing as an expert to TV shows I’ve appeared on every British terrestrial television channel and half a dozen or so international cable and satellite channels. My most recent series Secrets of the Brain is available to be streamed for free from anywhere in the world on the dedicated ultra high definition digital channel insight.tv (also on sky channel 279 in the UK). It’s without a shadow of a doubt the best presenting work I’ve done so far and it even got shortlisted for an AIB award.
Here’s my brand new showreel dedicated entirely to SotB.
Hope you like it…
I haven’t had a new TV series on the box for quite some time, but at 9pm tonight on Sky channel 279 my latest series Secrets of the Brain hits our screens. The first episode is all about memory. I take on the reigning world memory champion in a devilishly difficult mnemonic challenge and learn from him the techniques he uses to retain mind-bogglingly large amounts of information in a surprisingly short period of time.
Secrets of the Brain is also available to stream in ultra-high definition at www.insight.tv and the first 3 episode have already been released, available to view at your leisure, anytime. Over the course of each of these 10 x 1 hour episodes we explore the depths of human brain function by meeting people with amazing brains and others with extraordinary brain malfunctions.
I hang out with the Iceman Wim Hoff to understand how we can all plunge ourselves into icy water with minimum discomfort by following a few simple techniques. I meet an amputee whose state of the art prosthetic limb has enabled him to conquer his phantom limb pain. I go car racing around the track at Goodwood as part of my investigation into how our perception of time can expand and contract according to what we happen to be doing at the time. I spend an uncomfortable night wired up in a sleep lab, meet people suffering with narcolepsy and keep some student guinea pigs up all night to gain a better understanding of the importance of sleep. I get hammered to investigate the effect of alcohol on creativity. I interview one of Europe’s leading ophthalmic surgeons as he conducts surgery to implant a telescopic lens into the eye of a patient suffering with macular degeneration. I meet someone with acquired prosopagnosia, who is completely unable to recognise faces, even those of his nearest and dearest. I dine on a delicious multisensory feat with a synaesthetic man to get a handle on how our sense can get cross-wired. Throughout this adventure I’m accompanied by Pete Heat; a man with hundreds of tricks up his sleeve that really help bring the science to life with some brilliant magic.
All this, and more, coming up over the next few weeks in what I genuinely think might be my best TV work to date. The Brighton-based production company who made the series – Lambent Productions – are some of the loveliest TV people I’ve ever worked with. Every single member of staff went above and beyond the call of duty to make this series as good as it could possibly be. I’m very grateful to everyone who gave their absolute best every day and in particular Ollie Tait (co-MD of Lambent) with whom I worked very closely throughout. It’s always great to work with people who make you feel relaxed in front of camera and they really did make me feel extremely comfortable and relaxed. I’d almost go so far as to say a part of the family. And I really hope that comes across…
As well as these monthly blogs you can also follow me on Twitter. Also, in addition to my first book Sort Your Brain Out, my second offering Mice Who Sing For Sex is now available to preorder. It is the book of the Geek Chic Weird Science podcast I do with Lliana Bird, telling the story of over a hundred weird and wonderful nuggets of research to hit the press from many different scientific disciplines.
I’ve now been on the motivational speaking circuit for over 5 years. I’ve traveled the length and breadth of the country to perform at speaking engagements in schools, science conferences and a wide variety of businesses. As of this year, on the business speaking front, I’ve been very happy to find myself in great demand not just in the U.K. but all over Europe. In light of this I thought I’d write a quick update to describe which topics have been most popular with my clients.
There is a huge amount of insight that neuroscience can provide on a wide variety of topics. It’s always satisfying to find that, in tailoring my talks to the specific needs of a client, I’m constantly stumbling upon new areas of neuroscientific endeavour with which I wasn’t previously familiar . No matter what the organisation’s priorities have been in terms of what they want their staff to take away from my talk, a few days of digging around in the neuroscience literature ALWAYS yields some inspiration; shedding an interesting new perspective on virtually any topic. Do get in touch if you have a new challenge for me!
Talks for Schools
Over the past five years I’ve been invited to speak at several different schools across the UK. The aim is to engage young learners, usually in the build up to their big exams, with an upbeat neuroscience narrative that brings to life what exactly is going on inside their brains as they learn. Once students grasp that all their efforts are leading directly to huge changes in the wiring of their brains, adaptations that support the new skills that they are developing through trial and error, their motivation levels invariably rise accordingly.
I give them insights into straight-forward techniques to get brains working better: whether memorising information more thoroughly, managing exam stress more effectively and simply encouraging them to see school as the only viable way (currently) of sculpting young brains in preparation for dealing with whatever adult life might throw at them. The 2015-2016 school year will be my fifth consecutive year of doing my Brain Coach talk at two of the schools I regularly speak at.
Talks For Business: Neuroscience of Decision Making
In the last few of years I’ve been working more and more with senior management teams across Europe to help them understand insights from neuroscience that are relevant to their specific business needs. For example, I helped one of Europe’s “Big Four” auditors win a highly lucrative new business contract by sharing with them my Neuroscience of Decision Making talk in the context of reverse engineering the pitch process in light of the flaws in how the human brain evaluates information when making important choices. By exploiting a large corpus of knowledge generated over the past decade or so from neuroeconomic investigations the realities of how risk, uncertainty and benefit are evaluated in the human brain can be explored in order to concoct strategies that improve the likelihood of developing a successful pitch.
Talks for Business: Neuroscience of Creativity
Since the first outing of my Neuroscience of Creativity talk in 2013 it has evolved into a half-day workshop experience. I’ve been rolling this Innovation Workshop out over the course of 2015 with various members of the Senior Leadership Team at one of the world’s biggest broadcasters by sharing with them everything that science has to offer in terms of techniques that work and those that sound good but ultimately don’t. By assisting them to create an environment that genuinely promotes innovative thinking right at the very top of the organisation and convincing them of the worth of approaches in an evidence-based fashion, the idea is to reduce resistance to some of the seemingly unorthodox strategies in order that they might be allowed to permeate freely throughout the rest of the company.
Sort Your Brain Out
Sadly many people proclaim that their busy lives simply leave no time to read books. So Adrian Webster and I have turned our book Sort Your Brain Out into a live event. Since our first booking late last year we have been enjoying a steady increase in demand for our motivational speaking duet over the past few months and very much hope that this trend continues in the years to come. We are both represented by Gordon Poole Agency and our speaking agent James Poole is always on hand to discuss booking enquiries.
What a year 2014 has been! On a personal level I have passed a few major career milestones (those are the firsts). So I thought I’d use my December blog post to briefly reflect upon my highlights of 2014.
My first book Sort Your Brain Out surpassed all expectations (well, mine anyway) by staying in the top ten of the W H Smith’s Travel outlet Non-Fiction Chart throughout 2014. This is despite the fact it was only ever supposed to be displayed on the Business Chart shelves.
Never in a million years did I expect my first pop at writing for the general public to sell 25,000 copies in the first nine months!! My heartfelt thanks go out to Adrian Webster (@polarbearpirate) for putting up with me as we went through the process of co-authoring together. We have already started to be booked for joint speaking engagements (to find out more, just click here) and I’m very much looking forward to spending more time in his genuinely energizing company over the coming years.
I would also like to offer huge thanks to everyone who has supported us by buying a copy and particularly those who took the time to write us a review or get in touch with us on Twitter to say how useful they found it / how much they enjoyed it. It really does make it all worthwhile to know that it is making a difference in people’s lives!
This all started in January 2014 with a regular science spot on Lliana Bird’s (@XFM_Lliana) weekly XFM radio show. Over the course of nine months spent diligently investing every Sunday morning into researching and then memorising the best of the week’s quirky science stories, by September it had evolved into a fully-fledged podcast (you can download it for free by clicking here).
Birdy and I were thrilled to find ourselves immediately rocketing towards the top of the iTunes Natural Science Podcast Chart, in the most excellent company of the likes of The Infinite Monkey Cage, The Naked Scientists, Radio Lab and various offerings from the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4. It felt like Christmas had come early when iTunes told us that we’d made it into their “Highlights of 2014” list.
None of this would have been possible without Lliana’s determination to constantly push and experiment with different ideas (so much so that I’ve nicknamed her ‘Dynama’) and our sound producer Richard Boffin’s (@Boffintosh) diligence in finding great sound tracks, clips and effects to lift the whole production week in week out.
FIRST PRIME-TIME APPEARANCE ON BBC1
I’ve been talking neuroscience on the box since 2007. I started out on BBC2 with People Watchers, hit my first primetime audience on Sky One with How To Get What You Want and started reaching a global audience through various Discovery series such as The Tech Show. However although back in 2008 I did do a couple of experiments on the BBC1 Breakfast sofa with Bill Turnbull and company to promote the launch of People Watchers and had appeared in shows with huge viewing figures on ITV (This Morning) and Channel 4 (The Secret Life of Buildings), an appearance on a primetime BBC show has always, frustratingly, eluded me. Until now!
I’m thrilled to announce that I have finally been invited to contribute to a primetime BBC1 show. If you switch over to the “How To Save £1,000” Watchdog Special at 8pm on Thurs 15th January you will find me, early on in the programme, re-enacting the classic Walter Mischel’s Marshmellow Test with some very cute 4-year-olds and describing how this can explain difficulties that most of us encounter when trying to save money.
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to resist the temptation of squandering cash on things you want but don’t really need then you may well find this show very interesting. Our brains don’t make it easy for us to forego immediate gratification in favour of greater rewards in the long term but it IS possible. My role in this show is to frame the basic problem. I’m led to believe that it is chock full of practical suggestions on how to circumvent it.
Wishing you all a fantastic end to 2013 and a Happy New Year.
If you’d like to follow me on Twitter please click here: @drjacklewis
If you’d like to see my latest showreel then please click here: Showreel 2014
If you’d like to purchase a copy of my book please click here: Sort Your Brain Out
If you’d like to download my podcasts for free please click here: Geek Chic’s Weird Science
Today we launch episode 11 of Geek Chic’s Weird Science podcast: The Halloween Special. We discover from a Professor of Cardiac Pharmacology whether it is actually possible to die of fright, interrogate a zombie expert about whether they are a reality, interview a genuine witch and speak to a nutrition expert about what to do with all that leftover pumpkin! It’s completely free and will be available from iTunes at 10am – just click here to listen.
Geek Chic Weird Science is a weekly podcast covering some of the more unusual and eye-catching stories from the worlds of biology, physics and medical science. At its inception Geek Chic was a cheeky little weekly 3 min item on Lliana Bird’s Sunday show on XFM, which ran for the first 8 months of the 2014. Yet it soon became clear that 3mins wasn’t enough time to pack in all the juicy stories that pop up every single week. And to be brutally honest, not having time to “go beyond the headlines” was a tad frustrating. Consequently Geek Chic has matured into a 20 min vocal foray into weird and wonderful world of scientific discovery.
Every now and again we come across a story where even a share of 20mins is not sufficient to do it justice. So we often ring up an expert and get the scoop from the horse’s mouth in our Geek Chic Specials. Along the way we’ve dedicated the entire podcast to interviews with wizards of science like Prof Gisin (head of a lab in Switzerland investigating quantum teleportation) and Dr Hugo Spiers (interviewed during a champagne reception for 2014 Nobel Prize winner Prof O’Keefe describing future directions for the Brain’s GPS).
Lliana Bird is ace. Her energy and enthusiasm has never waivered. She is absolutely determined to grow, shepherd and nurture this thing we’ve created into the best it can be. She’s not just the co-presenter, she’s the producer, the recording technician, the head of PR, the art director and so much more. Then there’s Boff – the chef who cuts it all together, with a sprinkling of curious sound effect here and a hilarious or profound quote from film and television there.
Geek Chic Weird Science is not a job – it is a labour of love. And I genuinely believe this has something to do with why we have, through some mysterious black magic no doubt, rocketed up through the science podcast charts on iTunes. Fingers crossed it all continues in this direction.
As well as following me on Twitter (@drjacklewis) for the latest breakthroughs in brain science, you can also now follow Geek Chic Weird Science (@GCweirdscience) for regular updates on strange/fascinating news from science in general.
A big thank you to everyone who took time to view the clip reels for each series and send in votes for their favourite bits.
Those clips given the biggest thumbs up by the largest number of people made the final cut.
So here are the fruits of your labours… enjoy!
Dr Jack Lewis Showreel 2014
This Is How The Showreel Came Together…
The only way to create a decent showreel is to watch everything you’ve ever presented and then choose the best bits. However when this means watching over 40 hours of footage it can be hard to find the time to do this properly! In the past few weeks I finally got around to doing this and, having created a selection of best bits per series, I’m now at the stage where I need to whittle it down to the best 3 minutes worth of footage – which is where you come in.
Wisdom of the Crowd describes the phenomenon that if a large number of people are asked to make an educated guess about something, when considered together their estimates are much more accurate than each individual estimate.
This observation was first made by Sir Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin no less!) at the beginning of the Twentieth Century at a country fair in Plymouth where 800 people were asked to guess the weight of an ox. The true weight of the beast was 1198 lbs and although each individual guess varied wildly around this value the median value (the middle value when each of the individual guesses were organised into ascending order) was 2017 lbs – within 1% of the actual weight.
Trying to figure out which of the clips from 6 years worth of TV series are the “best” is not an exact science. A clip that one viewer considers to be brilliant may well be entirely uninspiring to another. A TV development producer will likely be looking out for something completely different from a TV commissioner. A younger viewer might find one clip extremely compelling whilst an older viewer’s favourite is completely different.
By asking a large number of individuals to select their favourite clip(s) from each series the aim is to leverage your collective wisdom to construct the best possible showreel. Below you will find a selection of clips from each of the various TV shows I have appeared on over the years. Please simply watch each short film and make a note of the ClipID number that appears on screen during the clip you find most compelling. Then, if you would be so kind, please tweet these ClipID numbers to @DrJackLewis as per the following example (NB please use #crowdsourcedshowreel rather than other derivations)…
Below we have a selection of clips from ITV’s This Morning spanning the period from 2011-2014
And clips from the second series of Plain Jane on MTV in 2013
Assortment of clips from Sex Hospital on Discovery Homes & Living / TLC in 2013
Selection of clips from The Tech Show on Discovery Science in 2011
Clip medley from How To Get What You Want on Sky One in 2010
And finally, assembly of clips from People Watcher’s on BBC2 in 2008
It would be amazing if you could find the time to watch these short compilations of clips and let me know via Twitter (or by clicking “contact” on the right of the menu bar at the top of this page).
Please don’t bother writing a comment below. Unfortunately there is far too much spam sent via the comments and so wading through all the rubbish to find the genuine comments is unfeasible.
Many thanks for your continued support and happy viewing…
2014 has already seen a TV lifetime ambition of mine achieved by appearing on CBBC’s Newsround (9th April). I explained, in a manner that 6-12 year old children can grasp, exactly how an amazing new electrode implant for people suffering from paralysis due to a spinal injury boosts the weak signal to enable them to move their legs again. Tomorrow (1st May) I’ll be back on This Morning after a two year hiatus to discuss human sex pheromones with Phillip Schofield, Holly Willoughby and Tracey Cox. And right at the beginning of this year I made my debut in a documentary for CBC (Canada’s version of the BBC) called Officeland, which took a lighthearted yet thorough look at working life in the modern office…
The topic of whether open-plan offices are, on balance, a good or a bad thing is extremely relevant to many people. The concept was first implemented in the hope of doing away with the strictly-defined hierarchy that ruled many office workers lives during the mid to late Twentieth Century. In-so-doing it was hoped that it would encourage greater interaction between staff and thus more spontaneous cross-fertilisation of ideas and innovation. This may be the case, but many workers stuck with this suspiciously cost-effective system of organising a workplace have begun to wonder if it really is the best way to work.
The Canadian Broadcast Corporation asked me to do some filming with them last year for a new documentary which aired in January of this year. My role was to illustrate how distracting the open plan office can be. I stress the word “illustration” here because anytime you wheel an EEG kit into an office space in front of TV cameras you are rarely doing what science would consider to be a bona fide experiment or study. The aim was simply to demonstrate what the EEG literature has found time and time again – prefrontal alpha waves are positively correlated with quiet, focused attention, whilst prefrontal beta waves are associated with the effort of blocking out distractions.
Officeland was presented by the inimitable Peter Keleghan whose light-hearted, comedic approach to the subject matter really helped to carry the whole documentary along very nicely. We wired him up and set him the task of completing an online IQ test in an open-plan office, to see how his brain would contend with commonplace distractions and some more unorthodox distractions thrown in for good measure. You can see how he got on below…
2014 has kicked off with a brand new weekly radio feature every Sunday on XfM dubbed “Geek Chic” (#geekchic). Birdy, as the delectable presenter of the Sat 4-7pm and 4-8pm slots is affectionately known, has been marshalling the XfM (UK 104.9FM) afternoon/early evening airwaves every weekend for the last few years and, it transpires, is a bit of a closet science geek. She kindly invited me to join her in the studio every Sunday afternoon to discuss the week’s most fascinating/quirkiest scientific discoveries.
For me it’s an opportunity to extend my remit beyond the wonderful world of human brain research into other realms of science. So far we’ve had caterpillars that eat tobacco leaves in order for their fag breath to keep their natural predators (wolf spiders) at bay, Argentinian eco warriors harnessing cow burp energy and a festival friendly gadget that can be fitted to a camping stove that enables you to charge your phone whilst boiling water for a hot drink.
On the brain side of things we’ve had people pitting their emotion generating powers against each other to blow up balloons in the Emotion Arcade. The aim is to generate a given emotion as powerfully as possible. Competitors scalps are wired up with EEG to measure the strength of the emotional state, which is then translated into an air pressure value that governs the amount of air forced into a pair of balloons. First person to pop their balloon wins!
We’ve also covered the discovery that a conventional mood stabilising drug appears to have the tantalising side effect of boosting neuroplasticity back to a level long thought to be impossible beyond the age of 7. Valproate is an anticonvulsant typically used to treat conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and migraine to name but a few. A recent experiment demonstrated that adults treated with valproate, but not those treated with placebo (a pill containing no active ingredients) could learn perfect pitch – the ability to name the specific sound frequency of a musical tone. Previously it was thought that if a person had not acquired perfect pitch during childhood then it would be impossible to acquire in adulthood. This is because the “critical period” has passed, a time when areas of the brain involved in musical were particularly malleable in the years leading up to our 7th birthday. Valproate is an inhibitor of an enzyme called histone deacetylase which, when not blocked by valproate, makes it harder to switch genes on and off – a critical aspect of neuroplasticity. The theory is that by blocking this enzyme with valproate during perfect pitch training, genes can be switched on and off more easily, allowing the relevant neuronal networks to re-wire with the level of super-malleability required for the ability to accurately identify musical pitch to be acquired.
Last week we talked about the relevance of new brain imaging research investigating the impact of the drug Ecstasy (MDMA) on the brains of healthy volunteers in light of it’s potential for use in helping people with Post-Traumatic Brain Disorder benefit fully from psychotherapy. And away from the brain front we described research accompanying the reintroduction of the northern bald ibis into the natural habitat from which it had become extinct that enabled scientists to explain why flocks of birds give us the V – that is fly in beautiful V-shaped formations. It turns out that whilst cyclists line up in a straight line to benefit from the drag of the bike in front, this is a bad idea if you’re a bird because you get caught up in the down draft from the bird in front. To benefit from the upwash created by the tip of the wing of the bird in front you need to be behind and to the side, making flying easier (as evidenced by a decreased heart rate when flying in V-formation). They even time their wing beats to optimise this process! Clever birds…
As the first three weeks of the Geek Chic feature seem to have gone down very well, I’ll be back in the Xfm studios every Sunday for the foreseeable future. So make sure you tune in to Birdy’s show on 104.7fm from 4pm to catch the latest and greatest science breakthroughs of the week.