Work with the Medical Research Council

From 1993 to 2007 I worked for the Medical Research Council, including three years at Cambridge University doing my PhD.

The last four years were spent studying people who suffer from a brain disorder that affects conceptual knowledge and language. They slowly lose their understanding of concepts (e.g. what a goat is, how it is similar to and different from a sheep, and so on) and the meanings of words. In spite of this they generously give their time to take part in research projects. These projects add to our understanding of how the brain represents knowledge and language, and may help future generations of people who suffer from similar disorders.

My most recent research project was an investigation of the amazing way in which people with this particular form of brain disease can still tackle and enjoy jigsaw puzzles. The participants completed a series of puzzles that ranged from easy to highly challenging. They were given a pile of pieces in the absence of a picture to copy. The subject matter was often distorted; some of the puzzles were abstract; and one especially difficult puzzle was a single, texture-less flat colour without a regular shape. Most of the patients completed these puzzles as efficiently as normal individuals of a similar age group. An analysis of the skills required to complete (and enjoy) jigsaw puzzles provides new insights into the combination of preserved and disrupted skills in this distressing condition.

puzzles in the order in which they were given to participants in the study