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Baroness Susan Greenfield

Susan Greenfield is a leading neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. She is known for her research into the brain including the effects of Information Technology on the brain cells of the young and the old, and most recently as a persuasive spokesperson for Science in the UK.

Dr. Greenfield was at school in West London (where she studied Latin and Greek), both an undergraduate and graduate at Oxford and has spent time in post doctoral research at the College de France, Paris and at the New York University Medical Centre in America. She is now back in Oxford as a Professor of Pharmacology and fellow of Lincoln College.

Much of her time, of course, is spent leading her 18 strong research team at Oxford University, studying the causes and effects of degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Some of her work has commercial applications, and she is an example to us all in her willingness to take products from research to commercial development, through a biotech company called Synaptica.

But for today's purposes, she is best known to the public as a leading neuroscientist and proponent of Science in general. She has written several widely read books on her specialist subject, the most recent being ?he Private Life of the Brain'. She has a talent for explaining tricky scientific concepts in language that can engage any reader, and forms conclusions about the mysteries of the brain from a wide range of animal and human research. She debates compellingly but undogmatically, granting that other theories might also hold in this still uncharted territory. She also recognises that her research bears closely on age-old philosophical questions, like the existence of free will.

Professor Greenfield would like to see Science as a subject and an institution become more accessible and attractive to the general population. She wants to see a society where we are all scientifically literate. To this end, she works hard at opening up a window into Science via the media. For example, she has appeared in Hello! so far surviving the famous curse of that magazine!

Tomorrow evening you can see on BBC2, the first of her six-part television series on the brain called ?rain Story', a series which she hopes, will make neuroscience intelligible to the masses. Those of us who have seen the trailers know we can look forward to something pretty exciting.

Professor Greenfield has already appeared on BBC Television's Tomorrow's World where she was asked to make predictions. One possibility is that, in the next century, we could have the option of silicon implants in our grey matter. Scientists are already growing nerves onto computer chips so that it may be possible, for instance, to speak a foreign language fluently simply by having a microchip in the brain!

In the shorter term, she believes the Internet in particular, offers older people a chance to sharpen their mental agility and perhaps, in the future, will even help to fight degenerative brain diseases. The idea of older people sitting unoccupied in a nursing home may become outdated and the elderly may well be encouraged to exercise their brains via the Net. To some of us, this is encouraging news!

She is deeply concerned, however, that over-use of the Internet in the young may prevent proper development of the brain in certain areas, i.e. imaginative processes and the ability to separate fact from theory.

She recently became Director of the Royal Institution. As well as being a forum for the presentation of advanced research, the Royal Institution is also concerned with the education of young scientists and mathematicians. It is well known for its Christmas lectures, which Dr Greenfield gave in 1994 - the first time a woman had done so.

Encouragingly, Dr Greenfield believes that the problem of girls and science (that is, their reluctance to take science courses) is being solved, although in her view, there are problems in science for women. Her own research group is unusual in being 50-50 male and female. She believes "it makes a difference having equal numbers, as, after all, that's how we are meant to be!"

Professor Greenfield holds the Gresham Chair of Physic in London, and has received honorary DScs from Brookes, St. Andrews, Exeter, Sheffield Hallam and London Universities. In 1998 she was awarded the Michael Faraday Medal by the Royal Society. She received a CBE in January of this year.

She is used to criticism and accepts that if you do something that is different or original, people are going to be critical. In an interview in the Guardian she is quoted as saying that "it is important to be yourself, and not mind if you are different. Being different is not necessarily bad".

We hope, Professor Greenfield, that you continue to be yourself, and produce work of great significance both to the scientific community and the general public.

DSc - July 2000
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