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Blizard Institute - Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Neuron Pod coming to Whitechapel

Construction has started on Centre of the Cell’s new ‘Neuron Pod’ - a striking 10-metre high free-standing structure in the mews area of the Blizard Institute at Whitechapel.

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Neuron Pod will add to the Centre’s current embryo-shaped science education centre suspended above the Blizard laboratories, and is expected to be completed by August, after which there will be an official launch. Funders of the £1.9m project include the Wellcome Trust, who awarded £1.1m, with additional funding from Barts Charity, Wolfson Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Hobson Charity, Gosling Foundation and Queen Mary. 

Centre of the Cell’s Director, Professor Fran Balkwill said: “We are all very excited about Neuron Pod – this unique building will allow Centre of the Cell to fulfil its potential and offer so much more to our visitors. It’s also so much within the ethos of Queen Mary and our roots back to the great charitable institutions of the city's East End, which is what is very exciting to me. 

“What’s really important about Neuron Pod is that it increases our ability to interact with the local community, and it will be exciting to see how this space evolves. Hopefully it will be a space where you can let your imagination run riot – it’s a very serious intention, but there’s this real sense of fun.” 

Live science shows, workshops, experiments and debates 

Construction commences in the mews area of the Blizard Institute at Whitechapel

Centre of the Cell is Queen Mary’s informal science learning centre, and is the first in the world to be located within working biomedical research laboratories. The Centre has successfully delivered a wide array of unique educational programmes designed to inspire pupils to pursue a career in the sciences and engage the public with biomedical research.

Since opening in September 2009, more than 155,000 young people and adults have participated in Centre of the Cell activities. Planned to address growing visitor demand, Neuron Pod will help increase visitor numbers, and provide a multi-functional space for live science shows, hands-on workshops, experiments, debates, films and exhibitions. This latest extension to Centre of the Cell will help them to continue to communicate the latest advances in medical research and maximise the number of people engaged with the subject.

Professor Peter McOwan, Vice-Principal (Public Engagement and Student Enterprise), said: “We at Queen Mary are incredibly proud of our award winning public engagement activity at Centre of the Cell, and are delighted that construction of a new space to grow our capacity has now begun.

“The Neuron Pod will allow us to run new research engagement initiatives aimed at adults, and grow our existing work helping create the next generation of scientists and healthcare professionals. In addition our plans to use the Pod for activities beyond simply bioscience and as a unique venue for public events will further strengthen our work with our local community.” 

13 pieces of steel

Off-site fabrication of the pod at Littlehampton Welding

The whole of Neuron Pod will be built of corten steel, and off-site fabrication of the pod has been done by Littlehampton Welding, award-winning specialists of structural and architectural metalwork.

It has 13 pieces in total and, during April, each piece is arriving one by one through the Dartford Crossing. The final and biggest piece, the ‘axon’, is expected to arrive by police escort towards the end of the month.

The 23-metre long Neuron Pod is designed by leading architect Will Alsop, creator of the existing Pod and surrounding Blizard Building, which has won numerous design awards including a Royal Institute of British Architects award. The Pod is designed with images of a nerve cell in mind, following on from the four pods inside the building that were inspired by images of certain cells or molecules.

Architect Professor Will Alsop OBE RA said: “I feel proud to have the opportunity to contribute to this amazing institution. Their work in encouraging young people is extraordinary. I think the new pod will help give young people an even more positive experience.” 

For more information about the project, and to view Neuron Pod in virtual reality, please visit Centre of the Cell’s website: If you have any questions regarding the project works, please contact the Estates Helpdesk at or call 020 7882 2580.