Festive symposium 2021

Ding Dong Merrily on AI

The 2021 online Festive symposium 'Ding Dong Merrily on AI' on the 13th of December will mark the launch of The BNA’s annual theme for 2022 - Artificial Intelligence: What can AI tell us about biological intelligence, and how can AI be used to interrogate neuroscience data and learn more about the nervous system?

We look forward to you joining us online for a fun and festive day of exploring AI, neuroscience, and the brain.


BNA Festive symposia
BNA Awards
Festive Fancy Dress competition

Could you benefit from a BNA-Brain carer grant?
Up to £200 for anyone with caring responsibilities (children or others) to help you attend!
Apply here


We are excited to have a wonderful group of speakers and talks lined up to discuss the latest research in AI and neuroscience.

The day will start at 10:00 GMT and is due to finish by 15:40 GMT.

10:00 - WELCOME AND START OF MEETING - Anne Cooke (CE) and Rik Henson (BNA President)

Session one - Chair: Rik Henson (BNA President)

  • 10:10 - Christopher Summerfield - University of Oxford
    Title TBC
  • 10:30 - Dan Jamieson - Biorelate Ltd
    AI tools for drug discovery and literature search


Session two - Chair: Rik Henson (BNA President)

  • 11:10 - Announcement and award of the BNA 2021 undergraduate and postgraduate prizes
  • 11:20 - Mihaela van der Schaar - University of Cambridge
    Quantitative Epistemology: How Machine Learning can help humans become better decision-makers
  • 11:40 - Aldo Faisal - Imperial College London
    The virtuous-cycle: AI for Neuroscience and vice versa


Session three - Chair: Tara Spires-Jones (BNA President-Elect)

  • 12:15 - Sadhana Sharma - Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
    Upcoming funding opportunities at the interface of AI and neuroscience
  • 12:25 - Thomas Nowotny - University of Sussex
    Insect AI – what we can learn from humble creatures 

12:45-13:40 - 55 MIN LUNCH BREAK

Session four - Chair: Rik Henson (BNA President)

  • 13:40 - Announcement and award of the BNA 2021 prizes for 'Outstanding Contribution to Neuroscience' and 'Public Engagement of Neuroscience'
  • 13:50 - Eleni Vasilaki - University of Sheffield
    Bioinspired Machine Learning
  • 14:10 - George Cevora- Arca Blanca
    Adversarial Examples: instability in deep learning or vision in general?


Session five - Chair: Tara Spires-Jones (BNA President-Elect)

  • 14:50 - Henry Shevlin - University of Cambridge
    Uncanny companions: social AI and the future of the cognitive sciences
  • 15:10 Announcement of fancy dress competition prize winners!



Christopher Summerfield - University of Cambridge
Speaker Biography
Christopher Summerfield is a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford and heads the Human Information Processing lab, focussed on understanding the computational mechanisms by which humans make decisions, and how these processes are implemented in the brain. He is tutorial fellow at Wadham College and a consultant at Google Deepmind. Christopher is also a great speaker, you may consider looking at his talks about neural structural alignment, neural networks, rationality of distorted perception and human-centred AI.

Dan Jamieson - Biorelate Ltd
Speaker Biography
Dan Jamieson is CEO and co-founder of Biorelate Ltd, which is using the power of AI to provide comprehensive and up-to-date curation of biomedical research. Articles are put through a series of deep learning and natural language processing software services that have been built to understand biomedical research, enabling over 30 million articles to be auto-curated in under 6 hours, and accelerating research intelligence for drug discovery.  Dan started his career with an undergraduate degree in Biology, followed by MRes Bioinformatics and Computational Biology and PhD in text mining molecular interactions, before moving into the commercial sector and working for Merck, Pfizer and most recently Biorelate.

Mihaela van der Schaar - University of Cambridge
Speaker Biography
Mihaela van der Schaar is the John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Medicine at the University of Cambridge, where she leads the van der Schaar Lab, one of the most impactful and diverse teams in the field.  They employ a wide range of Machine Learning approaches including deep learning, causal inference, AutoML, time series analysis, ensemble learning, and many more, with the goal of improving healthcare and medical knowledge.

Quantitative Epistemology: How Machine Learning can help humans become better decision-makers
Quantitative Epistemology is a transformational new area of research pioneered by our lab in Cambridge as a strand of machine learning aimed at understanding, supporting, and improving human decision-making. Our methods aim to studying human decision-making, identifying potential suboptimalities in beliefs and decision processes (such as cognitive biases, selective attention, imperfect retention of past experience), and understanding risk attitudes and their implications for learning and decision-making. This would allow us to construct decision support systems that provide humans with information pertinent to their intended actions, their possible alternatives and counterfactual outcomes, as well as other evidence to empower better decision-making.

Aldo Faisal - Imperial College London
Speaker Biography

Prof Dr Aldo Faisal (@FaisalLab) is Professor of Artificial Intelligence & Neuroscience at the Dept. of Bioengineering and the Dept. of Computing at Imperial College London. In 2019 Aldo become the founding director of the £20Mio UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in AI for Healthcare, and leads the Behaviour Analytics Lab at the Data Science Institute (London). Aldo works at the interface of Machine Learning, Neuroscience and translational Biomedical engineering to help people in diseases and health. He currently is one of the few engineers world-wide that lead their own clinical trials to validate their technology, In this space his works focusses on Human Augmentation, Digital Biomarkers and AI for medical intervention (Makin et al,Nat Biomed Eng; Komorowski et al, NatMed, 2018; Gottessmann et al NatMed, 2019). His work received a number of prizes and awards, including the $50,000 Research Discovery Prize by the Toyota Foundation.

Talk: The virtuous-cycle: AI for Neuroscience and vice versa.
AI is revolutionising the world, but how can we harness its power for changing how we do science? In our lab, we focus on the interplay between human and artificial brains, what they have in common, and most importantly how we can use principles from neuroscience to improve technology and use frameworks from technology to advance neuroscience. We will showcase examples highlighting how robotics and AI can be used to design structurally new questions in neuroscience.

Thomas Nowotny - University of Sussex
Speaker Biography
Thomas is a co-director of the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, and leads a research group using computational and hybrid systems approaches to better understand the properties and function of sensory and motor systems.  His research is focused around chemical sensing, in both animals and machines, GPU acceleration of computational neuroscience methods, bio-mimetic robot controllers, and hybrid computer-brain experimentation, with interests including Machine Learning methods for chemical sensing with electronic noses.

Talk: Insect AI – what we can learn from humble creatures
Deep learning has made a large impact on what we can achieve with machine learning and AI. However, it is not how animals learn and can be fragile and very resource intensive. In my presentation I will highlight some results where algorithms inspired by insect anatomy, physiology and behaviour are offering different solutions. Specific examples are our work on classification algorithms inspired by insect mushroom bodies and how odour onset asynchrony can be exploited for separating odour sources. I believe that, perhaps less sophisticated, insect-inspired algorithms can be the basis for more simple, robust, and efficient AI. At the end I will show in a live demonstration how the auditory system of the attendees uses the same principles to separate sounds sources that we hypothesize for odour source separation in the olfactory system of insects.

Eleni Vasilaki - University of Sheffield
Speaker Biography
Eleni VasilakiI is the chair of Bioinspired Machine Learning at the University of Sheffield, and the head of the Machine Learning research group. Eleni specialises in Bioinspired Machine Learning, Neuromorphic Computing, Computational Neuroscience; some of her most recent work has focussed on Echo state networks in reservoir computing. Accordant with her early education in Athens, she has also written a very interesting article on Epicurus, as the father of Reinforcement Learning.

George Cevora- Arca Blanca
Speaker Biography
George Cevora is the chief data scientist at Arca Blanca and illumr. During his PhD in Computational Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, he collaborated with Rik Henson on the role of Prediction Error in Probabilistic Associative Learning. George also programmed Rosa, a system that fights discrimination in data analytics and machine learning, and his current research explores how even very small datasets can be used to improve decision-making and policy.

Henry Shevlin - Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence
Speaker Biography
Henry Shevlin (@dioscuri) is a Senior Research Fellow with the Kinds of Intelligence programme at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and the Course Co-leader of the MSt AI Ethics and Society. His work focuses on issues at the intersection of philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and animal cognition, with a particular emphasis on perception, memory, and desire. Since 2015, he has been serving as a student committee member of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness.


BNA Festive Symposia

The BNA Festive Symposium is one of the most popular events in the neuroscience calendar, with a reputation for lively and inclusive programmes which attract people interested in neuroscience across all stages of their career. Previous years' events have sold-out weeks in advance and have been covered by BBC Radio Four's 'All in the Mind.

This year’s symposium will be held online.  This is because of ongoing travel anxiety and uncertainty due to the COVID19 pandemic, and also because we found that holding the previous year's Festive Symposium online (in 2020) greatly increased the accessibility and ability of people to attend from further away.

To maintain the sense of occasion, excitement and interaction, the talks will be delivered live, to maximize engagement of all attendees.  We have also made the talks and the day shorter than the in-person event, to allow for those who are multi-tasking and home-working. 

BNA Awards 

The BNA Festive Symposium will feature the presentation of the following BNA Awards for 2021.

  • Announcement of fancy dress competition prize winners!
  • Undergraduate prize 
  • Postgraduate prize 
  • Outstanding contribution to neuroscience 
  • Public engagement of neuroscience 


Fancy-dress competition

Our Festive meetings are always an opportunity for enjoyment and socializing as well as science, and we're determined to make sure the online version is no different!

We will be running a fancy-dress competition for all speakers, participants and delegates, on the theme of 'Festive', where we encourage you to embody the festive spirit in any way shape or form, whether relating to any religion or none, and where creativity and individuality is especially welcomed.

Prizes of suitable frivolity will be on offer!

To enter the competition:

  • dress up in your costume of choice on 13th December
  • send in a photo of yourself via Twitter or Instagram, making sure to tag the BNA (@BritishNeuro on Twitter or @britishneuroscienceassociation on Instagram) and with hashtags #RobeYourLobes (geddit...) and #BNAFestiveSymposium
  • or, if you prefer, send by email to office@bna.org.uk
  • Please ensure you have entered the competition by 2pm (GMT) on Monday 13th December 

Winners will be announced at the end of the day, and invited to 'the stage' to share their costumes in all their glory!


Miltenyi Biotec 

Miltenyi Biotec is a global provider of products and services that advance biomedical research and cellular therapy. Our innovative tools support research at every level, from basic research to translational research to clinical application. This integrated portfolio enables scientists and clinicians to obtain, analyze, and utilize the cell. Our technologies cover techniques of sample preparation, cell isolation, cell sorting, flow cytometry, cell culture, molecular analysis, and preclinical imaging. 

British Neuro-oncology Society

The British Neuro-oncology Society (BNOS) exists to:

  • promote high-quality neuro-oncology research, education and multidisciplinary patient-centred care; and
  • understand brain tumours to ensure the very best care is provided to all patients

BNOS provides interactive and collaborative opportunities between the diverse neuro-oncology disciplines; specialist education and training for junior scientists and clinicians; and offers opportunities for abstract presentations, awards and bursaries. Additionally, BNOS strives to act as the voice of neuro-oncology in the political process, promoting increased research funding and up-to-date utilisation of treatments and techniques in clinical practice.

Sponsor the Festive Symposium for just £350 + VAT!
Click here for full information about the sponsorship package and how your organisation can get involved. 

If your organisation is interested in supporting this event or other BNA activities, then please contact office@bna.org.uk.


In order to register your place:

  1. Please complete the online registration form, below, to save your place
    (If you are a BNA member, please log in to the website first, in order to register for FREE)
  2. Look out for the email you'll receive, nearer the time, with your joining link for the symposium
  3. The joining link will be sent to the email address you give when registering
  4. The link is unique to you.  Each individual wishing to attend needs to complete their own registration.

Please note that any attendees registering after 13:00 GMT on Friday 10th December will receive the link to join the symposium on the morning of Monday 13th December. We cannot guarantee that individuals registering after the start of the event on Monday 13th December will receive their joining link within a certain time period, but will do our best to get it to you as soon as we can!

Please note that as this is an online event catering requirements are not necessary. Please disregard the section referring to catering during the registration process. 


The BNA Festive Symposium 2021 is FREE for members!  Please click here to join if you are not already a member - membership brings with it loads of benefits and costs as little as £12 per year

There are costs associated with holding the event and therefore a fee will apply to non-members as follows:

Type Fee
BNA Member fee FREE
Standard non-member fee (including early career researchers and retirees) £10.80 (£8.50+VAT)
Subsidised non-member fee (for school students, undergraduates and postgraduates, and those from Low or Middle Income Countries*) £5.10 (£4.25+VAT)

*To be eligible for Low and Middle Income Countries subsidised fee rates, you must be based full time (working or studying at an institution) in one of the countries listed here on the Wellcome website, which uses information from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Please note that we may follow up with individuals who register using LMIC rates to check they are based in one of the eligible countries.


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