A True Mix of Art and Science

Human Brain | Arts and Science | Brain Art | Greg Dunn | Artist Daily
Example of neurons in the brain via X-ray; photo courtesy of Henrik500 with Getty Images

Neuroscientist Greg Dunn found a way to mix his profession with passion in an incredibly brilliant way, giving a whole new meaning to “arts and sciences.”

In his artwork titled “Self Reflected,” an 8 by 11-foot gilded engraving of the human brain, Dunn mapped illustrations of neurons and axons via “algorithmically guided microetchings,” according to an article by Scientific American.

“I wanted to use the power of art to communicate the complexity of the brain,” says Dunn.

To make each neurological pathway have the effect of real electrical firings, LEDs scanned across the surface and reflected off the gold leaf grooves’ fluctuating angles and depths.

Dunn’s Brainy Process

To create “Self Reflected,” Dunn gathered descriptions of different areas of the brain from fellow neuroscientists to make his primary sketches of neuron clusters and the sweeping tails of axons. The drawings, Dunn explains, are not based on one person’s brain connectivity, but rather a general layout of “each lobe’s neurons.”

To further randomize the art, Dunn then applied his algorithm to the neuron illustrations. His code, which sketches imitations from the overall construction of the drawings, was written to treat each region’s neurons as a “giant connect the dots.” The algorithm is also free to design, with only slight manipulation from Dunn to apply certain parameters—like the organization of the path, for instance.

Once the sketch was created, another algorithm assessed the distance from the LED lights to each individual line. This determined the angle and depth needed by each groove for the various visual textures and effects to be applied, such as the wavy reflections in the cerebellum.

Next, Dunn and his team “printed the images onto transparencies they laid over a specific form of ultraviolet-sensitive polymer,” notes the article. UV light then went to work etching the images into the underlying material in a process called photolithography.

The finished art is currently on display at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Dunn’s science-tastic approach to art is far from “basic.” In fact, if he reran the algorithm, the engraving would be different down to the tiniest of details because the code would choose a new route to take. Isn’t this a great analogy to the different paths we, and our brains, take in life?

Do you agree, artists? Let us know what you think about Dunn’s methodical approach to art in the comments!

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