We're sitting in front of a screen as lights shine on our face, two cameras pointed at us. If this sounds uncomfortable, it's about to get worse. Faces flash up on screen and we have to mimic their expressions from happy to sad, surprised to disgust. It's a truly bizarre experience, but it's all for a good cause.
The Science Museum is working with Imperial College to create a database of facial expressions. The aim is that this can then be used to help people with facial deformities, aiding facial reconstructive surgery.
Everyone's face is unique but by building up this database it's hoped that a close match can be found. That's why the research is trying to capture people from as many diverse backgrounds as possible — and The Science Museum attracts visitors from around the world.
There could be many more uses to this data. Dr. Allan Ponniah, one of the leads on this study, is keen to set up an app to help autistic children better express their emotions, and thereby improve their interactions with others.
There's fun to be had in participating too. After all the initial gurning at the screen we're presented with a 3D rendering of our face. It's scarily accurate — we can zoom right into the pores on our skin. The ability to pan, tilt and add emotions to the face are all part of the model. There's even a (slightly unsettling) chance to see our face greyed out as the top layer of skin is removed.
Anyone can drop in and take part by simply filling in a form and posing for the camera. It's a short process and took us around 10 minutes.
Are your facial expressions unique? is part of the Science Museum's Live Science programme. Drop in between 11am-1pm or 2-5.30pm on any day except Tuesday or Wednesday. It's free to take part and on until 2 July.