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Last Updated: Friday, 20 May, 2005, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Engineer's year-long brain wave
By Eric Simpson
BBC East Midlands

Melody Stokes with a mask
Melody aims to look behind the mask to see what drives us
Melody Stokes has her hands full with two demanding teenagers, a career in engineering and a brain buzzing with ideas all the time.

But as if that is not enough of a challenge, she is now looking to solve one of the true mysteries of life.

The 48-year-old former Lotus Cars engineer from a small village near Coventry is using a 30,000 grant to shed some light on how energy in our brains affects our lives.

She says her year-long study of her own mental and physical well-being will concentrate on what makes us tick.

Pickwick Papers

"I am writing 500 words a day - like a diary - and I write about what I am feeling like and my energy levels.

"Over the year, I will develop some themes but it is a bit like Dickens' Pickwick Papers - adding a little more every day."

Melody thinks that thoughts are stored as patterns of electrical energy which are released in bursts in the brain.

One of her theories is that autistic people do not have the same ability to stop those energy bursts so they tend to get frustrated as they fixate on one idea where another person would simply stop thinking about it.

Melody Stokes works mostly from home in Warwickshire
It made me realise that people with too much electrical energy in their body cannot think straight and cannot close it off
Melody Stokes, Dreamtime researcher
These bursts of energy and how to predict them are a major part of her research.

Her interest stems partly from her previous work on energy demand in homes that forms part of her PhD work at the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development at De Montfort University in Leicester.

She is also drawing on her experience as a noise reduction engineer at Lotus in Norfolk - where she grew up.

But she also was inspired by something even closer to home - her 15-year-old son.

Melody explained that her son - who is very bright and excels at sport - is "on the verge of dyslexia" and is sometimes labelled as naughty at school.

"Sometimes he gets really mad at school and often when doing his homework he would get extremely frustrated - it was like there was a huge maelstrom in his head.

The whole question of her son "having too much energy in his head" prompted her to try to apply her knowledge of electrical energy patterns to the human body.

"Thoughts begin and end as electrical patterns - it made me realise that people with too much electrical energy in their body cannot think straight and cannot close it off.

Seasonal Affective Disorder
Solar patterns
Energy flows
"While I was looking at the models of electricity demand, I wondered whether it would be possible to model people's behaviour, too."

Melody hopes her work, funded by a Dreamtime Fellowship from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts (Nesta), will be read by experts in neurology or psychology.

The fellowships are awarded to experts who are given a year-long sabbatical to delve into topics they might not otherwise have time to explore.

"What I want to do is nudge people who are doing detailed research into these questions into thinking about issues in different terms," she said.

And Melody is intending to delve into a huge range of ideas in her year of study: the effect of daylight on your mood, seasonal effects on growth in children, the effect of serotonin and adrenaline on the brain, and how we react to colours.

She has already interviewed Sir David Wallace, the vice-chancellor at Loughborough University and a physicist, for her project.

She wants to talk to as many people as she can in the next year.

"My aim is to find out how the body manages energy within itself because I think that is source of our emotions."

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