Publish date: 19 May 2022

An Iceland plastic carrier bag, a Covid-19 vaccine vial and a piece of stainless steel have been sealed in a time capsule that has been placed in the foundations of a new world-class centre for neuroscience.

Currently in construction on Grays Inn Road, London, the new UCL centre will be the national headquarters of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) and home to a large proportion of UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology. Alongside these will be an outpatient service for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, allowing clinicians and researchers to work closer than ever before with people with neurological disorders, their doctors and researchers.  

Queen Square Institute of Neurology Manager, Dr Hélène Crutzen and local resident Marianne Jacobs-Lim with the time capsule at 256 Grays Inn Road. Image credit: Kirsten Holst

Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences, UCL said: “UCL is a global leader in pioneering research into neurological conditions that cause disabling and distressing symptoms such as immobility and dementia and it can be a challenge to link researchers with clinicians, patients, industry, and students. This new purpose-built centre of excellence will enable that collaboration between these key groups to take place and, as a consequence, new treatments to be developed and tested.

“Our goal is to translate discoveries into treatments and have a real impact on patients with disabling neurological conditions and those affected by them. I am sure that in 25 years we will have taken considerable steps to translating that goal into a reality.”

The time capsule includes a range of objects that tell the story of the centre’s foundation and preserve its memories for years to come, from its inception, obtaining the Eastman Dental Hospital site in 2017 and breaking ground in 2021 – navigating the Covid-19 pandemic along the way. 

A plastic bag was included to represent the total of £20 million donated by supermarkets to create the new facility, raised from the proceeds of the 5p carrier bag charge. Iceland Foods Founder and Executive Chairman Sir Malcolm Walker founded the Dementia Research Retail Partnership - a group of nine UK retailers who committed to support dementia research at UCL.

The Covid-19 vaccine, alongside the genomic sequence for the virus represents the work that both scientists at UCL and clinicians at UCLH have undertaken during the pandemic, while the piece of stainless steel symbolises the joint UCLH and UCL MRI facility, which will bring up to six new MRI scanners into operation. During construction, standard iron girders could not be used in this space, due to the powerful magnets involved.

Submissions from staff and a UCLH patient are included in the time capsule. Max Tolhurst, Divisional Manager, Gita Ramdharry, Consultant AHP and Noreen Barker, Consultant Nurse from the Multiple Sclerosis team, as well as Chief Executive David Probert where at the ceremony when the time capsule was sealed. 

David Probert, Chief Executive said: “Today, as we seal this time capsule, with contributions from UCLH, I am immensely proud of the work being done every day to improve outcomes for people with some of the most complex neurological conditions and diseases for generations to come.”

Max Tolhurst, Divisional Manager said: “It was a privilege to be at the sealing ceremony representing NHNN. The new development at Grays Inn Road with outpatient and imaging services is a key for our division. It will enable much wider colocation of clinical care and cutting edge research as well as enabling us to make best use of our estate at our Queen Square sites. It was really exciting to see the construction developing and to imagine our future services in the facility. We are also really grateful to the National Brain Appeal for their support for the new development.”  

Other items in the time capsule include a giant sunflower head, cast in black-pigmented Jesmonite by artist Annie Cattrell. The sunflower was gifted to the project’s site artist by the neighbouring Calthorpe Community Garden, who had planted and grown the flower during lockdown. 

Site artist Freya Gabie has included drawings of the work site’s surface, pupils at nearby Christopher Hatton primary school imagined what scientists would have discovered in 25 years’ time and the capsule includes a selection of commonly used lab items in 2022 and research image photographs from early career researchers and students.