Creative thinking

Universities are traditionally a hive of creativity, but on Saturday 16th March our scientists took us under the skin of inspiration to explore how creativity happens.

The neuroscience of art, music and dreaming were all showcased as part of Brain Day 2013, under the theme of ‘your creative brain’. The free annual expo is organised by the Centre for Brain Research (CBR), with support from the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, and is part of international Brain Awareness Week. Over 2000 members of the public attended the event at the Business School, which featured science laboratory experiments, musical performances, and kids’ hands-on activities.

A packed out lecture programme ran throughout the day, with over 900 people attending lectures every hour.  The exciting topics included mind wandering by Emeritus Professor of Psychology Mike Corballis, research on imagination and creativity by Associate Professor Donna Rose Addis, and the latest science on understanding happiness by Dr Tony Fernando.

Centre for Brain Research Director Professor Richard Faull spoke about the creativity needed to develop collaborations at the University, bringing together scientists from divergent fields along with clinicians and the community. Professor Faull also revealed the latest plans to grow neurosurgery research in Auckland, with a campaign being launched later in the year to fund a new Neurosurgery Chair.

Professor Faull is keen to stress that everyone can be creative; “Every amazing work of art, literature or music in the history of civilisation has been generated by the human brain. We know from our studies that the more we keep active and expose ourselves to new experiences, the more new brain cells are generated. So it’s important to indulge in being creative – music, art and stimulating conversation will help to keep you young!”

Running parallel to the lectures was a discussion series featuring scientists and community experts discussing hot topics in the science of creativity. Members of the CeleBRation Choir, the university’s music therapy choir for people with neurological conditions, gave a well-received performance. Associate Professor of Education Peter O’Connor stressed the importance of play, while Oscar winning scientist Dr Mark Sagar discussed developments in computer animated life-like human faces.

Schoolchildren from across Auckland also had the chance to test their experimental skills, with the new ‘Students as Researchers’ programme. The scheme is a collaboration between the CBR and LENScience, a schools programme funded by the National Research Centre for Growth and Development. Promising Maori and Pacific students were given the opportunity to run psychological tests on the public, which they will then present to their scientist mentors in an upcoming seminar.

The venue had a wonderful vibe thanks to music from talented young musicians, including a jazz quartet from the School of Music and a string quartet from the Medical School. The Polytonix Chorus even treated the kids’ area to an impromptu rendition of Jingle Bells, along with children’s TV presenter Suzy Kato!

The Chair of the CBR Community Committee which organises the day is Dr Cathy Stinear. “Brain Day is always a great opportunity for people to interact with clinicians, scientists, and community support groups, and this year we were really inspired by the creativity theme. We are just so grateful for all the support we receive from the university to make this day happen.”

All lectures and discussions from Brain Day 2013 will be available on the web from Thursday 21st March at www.cbr.auckland.ac.nz/brainweek.

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