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The Large Lecture Theatre is being renamed the Blakemore Lecture Theatre in tribute to the longest serving Waynflete Professor of Physiology Sir Colin Blakemore FRS following a prestigious Festschrift event held in Professor Blakemore's honour.

The Large Lecture Theatre in the Sherrington building is being renamed the Blakemore Lecture Theatre in recognition of the sustained and long-standing contribution of Professor Sir Colin Blakemore FRS as Waynflete Professor of Physiology and his time as an outstanding lecturer for generations of medical students and physiology students on the wonders of the brain.

Professor Blakemore is a world-renowned neuroscientist who has significantly contributed to our understanding of vision, and how the brain develops and adapts. He has been influential in demonstrating ‘neural plasticity’ — how brain cells reorganise themselves in response to the environment after birth and even in adulthood. Professor Blakemore joined the Department in October 1979 at the age of 35 years as the youngest Waynflete Chair of Physiology and a Professorial Fellowship at Magdalen College, positions he held until July 2007. During this time, he directed the McDonnell-Pew Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Oxford Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. From 2007-12, he was Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford and Supernumerary Fellow at Magdalen. Professor Blakemore, who remains Emeritus Professor at DPAG, is also very well known for his passionate belief in the importance of public engagement with research. He has held several influential positions, including serving as Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council from 2003-07, and received a knighthood in 2014 for services to scientific research, policy and outreach.

The renaming of the Large Lecture Theatre in recognition of his life and work follows a Festschrift and Dinner Event held in Professor Blakemore's honour on Friday 6 August 2021, organised by Head of Department Professor David Paterson, Professor Andrew Parker and Professor Zoltán Molnár. Some of the world's leading neuroscientists and physiologists attended a day-long series of short talks in the Large Lecture Theatre, covering the extensive and diverse areas of neuroscience and cognition that Professor Blakemore has addressed during his career. There was strong representation from Professor Blakemore's former graduate students, lab members and academic collaborators, alongside members of his family, including his daughter Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge. 

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Colin Blakemore© Colin Beesley - Sir Colin Blakemore FRS with daughter Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Following a memorable programme of neuroscience and associated critical social scientific themes, speakers and attendees gathered in St John's College Hall for drinks and dinner to toast the life and work of Professor Blakemore, where the renaming of the Large Lecture Theatre in Professor Blakemore's honour was announced. Professor David Paterson also presented Sir Colin Blakemore with the Sherrington Prize Lectureship medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to neuroscience.

Sir Colin Blakemore Dinner Event montage© Zoltán Molnár

Head of Department Professor David Paterson said: "Emeritus Professor Sir Colin Blakemore FRS is the longest serving Waynflete Professor of Physiology, where he educated generations of medical students and physiological sciences students on the wonders of the brain in this lecture theatre.  As well as being an eminent neuroscientist, he has been an outstanding communicator to the public understanding of science.  At the age of 32 years he delivered the BBC Reith Lectures followed by the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 1982-83.  His popular 13 part BBC series The Mind Machine resulted in Colin being awarded the Royal Society's Michael Faraday Prize for his work in public communication, the citation described him as "one of Britain's most influential communicators of science".’  The naming of this lecture theatre in his honour reflects the decades of service and scholarship he has given to our Department."

The Festschrift Talks

Development and plasticity

Following a welcome address from Professor David Paterson, the first set of talks chaired by Professor William Harris FRS addressed the theme of "Development and plasticity". The audience heard from Professor Christine Holt FRS on "Axon guidance and local translation", Professor Zoltán Molnár on "Silencing neurons in the developing and adult cortex", Dr Richard Adams on "Gazing at the developing brain" and Professor Frank Sengpiel on "Experience dependent plasticity of the visual cortex".

Blakemore Festschrift - Development and plasticity group© Colin Beesley - From left: William Harris, Zoltán Molnár, Richard Adams, Colin Blakemore, Christine Holt and Frank Sengpiel

Visual Cortex

The second set of talks chaired by Professor Ian Thompson examined the visual cortex. The first three talks took the audience through a journey of the recent history of visual cortex research, delivered by Professor Anthony Movshon on "Visual cortex: 1971-1976, and beyond", followed by Professor Michael Hawken on "Visual cortex: 1977-1988, and beyond" and Professor Andrew Parker on "Making a sense of place: visual cortex 1988-2005". The set of talks was concluded by Dr Denis Schluppeck on "Measuring residual visual brain networks after stroke". 

Blakemore Festschrift - visual cortex group© Colin Beesley - From Left: Michael Hawken, Denis Schluppeck, Colin Blakemore, Anthony Movshon, Andrew Parker and Ian Thompson

Cognition

The third set of talks chaired by Professor Oliver Braddick addressed research on cognition. The audience heard from Professor Anya Hurlbert on "Colour Conception", Professor Kun Guo (not pictured below) on "It takes one to know one: Visual emotion perception in human-animal interactions", Professor Chris Frith FRS on "Top-down control: How the mind influences the brain" and Dr David Rose on "The nature of illusions". 

Blakemore Festschrift - Cognition group© Colin Beesley - Back row from left: Chris Frith and David Rose. Front row from left: Oliver Braddick, Anya Hurlbert, Colin Blakemore

 Disorders

The fourth set of talks chaired by Professor Tipu Aziz tackled the topic of disorders. The talks were delivered by Professor Peter Kind on "Long-lasting effects of early treatment in a rat model of Fragile X Syndrome", Professor Tara Spires-Jones on "Alzheimer’s through the looking glass: imaging synapse degeneration", Professor Nicholas Wald FRS on "Folic Acid and Neural Tube Defects" and Professor Jianfeng Feng on "Computational Approaches to Mental Disorders".

Blakemore Festschrift - Disorders group© Colin Beesley - Back row from left: Peter Kind and Tara Spires-Jones. Front row from left: Jianfeng Feng, Nick Wald, Tipu Aziz

Science and Society

The fifth and final set of talks for the day chaired by Professor Barry Smith explored the concept of "Science and Society". These concluding wide ranging talks were given by Professor Richard Dawkins FRS on "Science, the Progressive Uncoverer of Truth", Professor Martin Kemp on "Blakemore & Hockney: The Art of Looking", Dr Tracey Brown OBE on "Owning our issues", Professor David Nutt on "Critical periods—and not just in the visual cortex!" and, finally, Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, daughter of Sir Colin Blakemore FRS, on "Educating the adolescent brain". 

Blakemore Festschrift - Science and Society Group© Colin Beesley - Back row from left: David Nutt, Martin Kemp. Front row from left: Barry Smith, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Tracy Brown, Richard Dawkins, Colin Blakemore

Selected Lecture Photographs

Feschrift lecture photo - young Blakemore© Zoltán Molnár

Feschrift lecture photo - young Blakemore working with colleague in lab© Zoltán Molnár

Colin Blakemore sitting on MRI machine following a scan.© Zoltán Molnár

Feschrift lecture photo - photo montage of Blakemore© Zoltán Molnár and Donald Mitchell

Feschrift lecture photo - Blakemore in 1971© Zoltán MolnárFeschrift lecture photo - Blakemore painting© Zoltán Molnár

Slide reads: find joy in the science, build a supportive lab team, keep wine in the office© Zoltán MolnárSlide reads Computational Approaches to Mental Disorders© Zoltán Molnár

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