Illuminating look at the brain now on display at Franklin Institute

    Self Reflected, the creation of two Philadelphia artist/scientists

    Self Reflected, the creation of two Philadelphia artist/scientists

    The human brain contains a lot of neurons. As in, more than 80 billion. The Franklin Institute is attempting to illuminate that, literally, through a new piece of intricate, high-tech neuron art.

    It can be easy to lose track of the bigger picture, of how these billions of neurons mysteriously connect to create consciousness, when you’re a researcher focusing in on just a few of them in a lab, said neuroscientist Greg Dunn.

    “One of the things I found so frustrating is that you need to go so deep into the details in order to make progress on your little problem,” he said.

    As a result, Dunn turned his energy into art. For the last two years, he has been working with Penn physicist Brian Edwards on a 8-by-12-foot depiction of the sagittal slice of brain. It involved Dunn etching half a million neurons into gold plates, with Edwards using some elaborate algorithms and optics to depict these neurons in action.

    They’ve made a video that goes through this “micro-etching” process, but, essentially, as light shines on the piece from specific angles, one can actually see the different webs of neurons shoot through the brain, in the same way they would inside one’s brain as it processes viewing this very image.

    Dunn, who calls the piece “Self Reflected,” said he hopes it inspires young and adult minds alike to think about the brain in new and creative ways. He will give a free talk about the piece Saturday at 3 p.m. at the institute.

    “It literally is one of the best fusions of science and art I’ve ever seen,” said Frederic Bertley, head of science and education at the institute.

    Bertley, who is struck by the work’s beauty and accuracy, said it was a no-brainer for the Institute to feature it as part of the institute’s permanent brain exhibit. It was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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