Recent technological and scientific advances have fuelled a neuroscientific revolution. Imaging techniques such as those shown above have given us an unprecedented view into the structure and function of our brain.
The new work at The Franklin Institute may be the most complex and detailed artistic depiction of the brain ever.
Your brain has approximately 86 billion neurons joined together through some 100 trillion connections, giving rise to a complex biological machine capable of pulling off amazing feats. Yet it’s difficult to truly grasp the sophistication of this interconnected web of cells.
Now, a new work of art based on actual scientific data provides a glimpse into this complexity.
The 8-by-12-foot gold panel, depicting a sagittal slice of the human brain, blends hand drawing and multiple human brain datasets from several universities. The work was created by Greg Dunn, a neuroscientist-turned-artist, and Brian Edwards, a physicist at the University of Pennsylvania, and goes on display at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
“The human brain is insanely complicated,” Dunn said. “Rather than being told that your brain has 80 billion neurons, you can see with your own eyes what the activity of 500,000 of them looks like, and that has a much greater capacity to make an emotional impact than does a factoid in a book someplace.”
To reflect the neural activity within the brain, Dunn and Edwards have developed a technique called micro-etching: They paint the neurons by making microscopic ridges on a reflective sheet in such a way that they catch and reflect light from certain angles. When the light source moves in relation to the gold panel, the image appears to be animated, as if waves of activity are sweeping through it.
First, the visual cortex at the back of the brain lights up, then light propagates to the rest of the brain, gleaming and dimming in various regions — just as neurons would signal inside a real brain when you look at a piece of art.
That’s the idea behind the name of Dunn and Edwards’ piece: “Self Reflected.” It’s basically an animated painting of your brain perceiving itself in an animated painting.
To make the artwork resemble a real brain as closely as possible, the artists used actual MRI scans and human brain maps, but the datasets were not detailed enough. “There were a lot of holes to fill in,” Dunn said. Several students working with the duo explored scientific literature to figure out what types of neurons are in a given brain region, what they look like and what they are connected to. Then the artists drew each neuron.
Dunn and Edwards then used data from DTI scans — a special type of imaging that maps bundles of white matter connecting different regions of the brain. This completed the picture, and the results were scanned into a computer. Using photolithography, the artists etched the image onto a panel covered with gold leaf.
“A lot of times in science and engineering, we take a complex object and distill it down to its bare essential components, and study that component really well” Edwards said. But when it comes to the brain, understanding one neuron is very different from understanding how billions of neurons work together and give rise to consciousness.
“Of course, we can’t explain consciousness through an art piece, but we can give a sense of the fact that it is more complicated than just a few neurons,” he added.
The artists hope their work will inspire people, even professional neuroscientists, “to take a moment and remember that our brains are absolutely insanely beautiful and they are buzzing with activity every instant of our lives,” Dunn said. “Everybody takes it for granted, but we have, at the very core of our being, the most complex machine in the entire universe.”
Image 1: A computer image of “Self Reflected,” an etching of a human brain created by artists Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards.
Image 2: A close-up of the cerebellum in the finished work.
Image 3: A close-up of the motor cortex in the finished work.
Image 4: This is what “Self Reflected” looks like when it’s illuminated with all white light.
Image 5: Pons and brainstem close up.
Image 6: Putkinje neurons - color encodes reflective position in microetching.
Image 7: Primary visual cortex in the calcarine fissure.
Book Recommendations: Books that have helped me think and write critically when it comes to scientific literature. I’ve never gotten below a 4.0/1st in a lab report.
This post will be especially helpful for those taking psychology, neuropsychology, neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, pharmacy etc. All books are written by world leading academic researchers and are very well referenced.
If there is a book on this list that you read, let it be this! Dr Goldacre focuses on the misuse of science by journalists, homeopaths, schools and big pharmaceutical companies. The book has a great segment on understanding “The Placebo Effect”. Other topics include; Brain Gym, misleading cosmetic adverts, issues with vitamin pills and “toxins”. He has a blog he runs Badscience.net that has great free articles! The book is beautifully referenced and really easy to read, definitely worth investing in. If you can’t spend money on the book just yet, there is a similar free talk here.
Prof Nutt incurred the wrath of the UK government when he put forth research papers stating that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than many illegal drugs, including LSD, ecstasy and cannabis. In “Drugs”, he talks us through the science of what drugs are and how they work, quantifying and comparing the harms caused by different drugs, as well as drug addiction. This book is a great starting point and has educated me on all major drugs better than any textbook has. It’s written in simple English with numerous references and even has a wonderful segment titled “What should I tell my kids about drugs?”. I have had the pleasure of meeting Prof Nutt multiple times and given the slander he has endured, he remains passionate and dedicated to his field. Prof Nutt runs a website aimed at the general public Drugscience.org. There is a similar free talk here.
Another gem by Dr Goldacre, this is a slightly heavier text than the above two books but is a must read for those going into pharmacy or research. Bad Pharma explains where new drugs come from and issues with missing data in clinical trials. Companies run bad trials on their own drugs, which distort and exaggerate the benefits by design. When these trials produce unflattering results, the data is simply buried. Dr Goldacre discusses the issues with design and also the harms of not making the missing trial data available. This book is not ‘anti-drug’, this book highlights issues with publication bias and how this needs to be and can be mended in order for doctors and patients to make better informed decisions on the drugs they are prescribing/prescribed.There is a similar free talk here.
Written by the late Dr Oliver Sacks, this was the first book I purchased at the age of 13 in the field of neurology that made me go nuts for the brain. As a huge fan of Roald Dahl’s style, this book was just perfect. Dr Sacks turned patient case studies into short stories, inviting you into the incredible world of neurological disorders. The following phenomena are covered: visual agnosias, memory loss, Parkinsonion-symptoms, hallucinations etc. Dr Oliver Sacks has multiple books that are worth investing in, have a look at Oliversacks.com. There is a similar free talk here.
Ramachandran, through his research into brain damage, has discovered that the brain is continually organising itself in response to change. Phantoms in the Brain explores case studies and experiments invented by Dr Ramachandran like the Mirror Box to help understand the underlying issues. Examples of the case studies involve a woman who persists that her left arm is not paralysed (albeit her entire leftside is paralysed) and a young man loses his right arm in a motorcycle accident, yet he continues to feel a phantom arm with vivid sensation of movement. In a series of experiments using nothing more than Q-tips and dribbles of warm water the young man helped Dr Ramachandran discover how the brain is remapped after injury. This book is really enjoyable and is a slightly more in-depth read than The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. There is a similar free talk here.
Prof Zimbardo provides an in-depth analysis of his classic Stanford Prison Experiment, and his personal experiences as an expert witness for one of the Abu Ghraib prison guards, raising fundamental questions about the nature of good and evil. This book has really interesting commentaries on The Columbine Shooting, People’s Temple Mass Suicide, Prison Abuse in Afghanistan etc. I enjoyed the book but it does get really repetitive (it definitely could have been made shorter by 100 pages), the publishers also use a really small font. There is a similar free talk here.
Ages have been mentioned not as restrictions but as guidelines in terms of the writing style and sensitivity of the literature. Every book mentioned above doesn’t need to be read chronologically, from cover-to-cover. They have been compiled in such a way that you can dip in and out of the chapters without confusion. Lovely! All free talks are given by the authors and they cover the same topics that are mentioned in the books.
If you ever wish to discuss the literature, do get in touch with me!
As noted by Dr. Vicki Ellingrod - the Chair of this session, “Current state-of-the-art research in both animal models as well as humans point to the link between the gut microbiota and mood and anxiety models, as well as the potential for psychiatric medications to directly affect the gut microbiome.”
The study will be presented at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
9.7 it’s ya girl fresh from her first ever college class!! it’s probably a good sign that I fell in love with it immediately, as it’s the first requirement in my bio/neuro major :)) I also decided to go with a normal planner this year sadly, a bujo just took too much time to keep up with and I’m going for efficiency!!
How to Hijack Your Brain’s Reward Circuitry and Make it Work *For* You
The reward circuit of the brain has several component parts, each of which plays a distinct but interconnected role. We’re going to focus on the five most important parts: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the ventral striatum, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the cerebral cortex.
Feeling motivated and pretty good today, I want to pass that exam on Wednesday as good as possible ✨ I do love mildliners, they are gorgeous (even though they last for 2 months 😞) but I’m so motivated just by using them ☀️ I hope you’re motivated and happy and y'all going to rock your exams 💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼
Using a new kind of MRI measurement, neuroscientists reported higher levels of oxidative stress in patients with schizophrenia, when compared both to healthy individuals and those with bipolar disorder.
The study will be presented at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
So I get asked a lot about wanting to get into
psychology/neuroscience and what books I would recommend, so I’ve made a list
for you all to look through! I’ve separated into leisure reading and academic
texts as reading Oliver Sacks would be much easier to read on the train for
light reading, than a full blown anatomical textbook!
Books – Leisure
These are books worth reading that are not purely academic.
A lot of these are your bog standard Oliver Sacks books but I cannot recommend
his works enough!
Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
This is the first book that’s always suggested to anyone
going into Psychology and for good reason. It covers the weird and wonderful
feats of the human brain, and how damage affects it. Full of case studies,
notes and facts all wrapped up in a little bundle!
Nathan Filer - The Shock of the Fall
This is probably my favourite book. It’s fiction, but based
on a very real disorder. Written by Nathan Filer who was once a nurse on a
ward, he looks at psychosis and writes it in such a beautiful and accurate way
that you actually almost feel as if you understand what psychosis is really
like. For those who have actually suffered from psychotic breaks, this really
illustrates it in such an accurate and yet simple way, it really is the best
book I’ve ever read. It touches on death, mental health, loss, love, and
everything in between. I won’t say much more because it would be considered as
a spoiler but it really is a great insight into one of the most misunderstood
psychotic disorders out there, and working on a ward myself, it really is as
well written as it could be.
Sam Kean - The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons
So this book I haven’t finished, I’ve only read the first
chapter and have been too busy to continue reading it but from what I’ve read,
this is a valuable resource for anyone going into neurology/neuroscience/psychiatry.
It goes through the history of how we came to understand the human brain as it
is now, and is written in a fluid and fun manner, so you’re not as bored as you
would be reading an academic text book. It almost dramatizes the historical
events that happened which makes it a fantastic read. It looks at key figures
in the history of neuroscience, key events, neuroplasticity, delusions and much
more. It’s fantastically written from what I can tell so far and has a lot of
great info for anyone wanting to get into the fields of
Bruce Hood – The Domesticated
This one’s an easy read and a very good one. When I first
started my undergraduate degree I hadn’t really don’t a lot of preparation – in
all honesty I didn’t even plan on doing psychology, so I hadn’t done ANY
reading or prep prior to my course – So I found this book in a Waterstones
before I got my train back to London. It’s not as easy to read as Sam Kean but
easier than Oliver Sacks, so it’s something good to pick up between
assignments. Its main focus is on how we are social animals and how evolution
has changed the way we behave as well as the biology, so not quite as well
rounded in all areas of psychology but a must read if you’re particularly interested
in our evolutionary biology and social psychology.
Purves et al. – Neuroscience
My Fundamental Neuroscience Module was pretty much based on
this text, it’s got EVERYTHING you need to know about the mechanisms of the
human brain on every level, molecular upwards. It’s comprehensive and pretty
much has been my saviour throughout this degree.
Crossman – Neuroanatomy: An Illustrated Colour Text
I cannot praise this book enough. It has EVERY anatomical
detail down in an easy to read, easy to study from, easy to do anything with
form. It’s one of the few books I’m actually buying to keep at the end of this
year just because it’s the perfect book to reference for your neuroanatomical
needs. Without this, I would’ve seriously struggled with learning about optic
nerves, cranial nerves, cranial nuclei, the skull, everything. It’s a saviour
and a necessity if you plan on doing any kind of psychology. I promise you wont
regret this one. Plus, it’s not too expensive either.
Diamond – The Human Brain Colouring Book
This is just fantastic. It’s a great resource for stress
relief AND learning. It’s self-explanatory really, an excellent resource to
have at home for when you can’t be arsed with assignments or doing anything and
fancy a bit of colouring while learning about things! Plus it’s a great aid if
you’re a visual learner.
Carlson, Martin, Buskist – Psychology
This was basically my hero for my entire undergrad. It was
the recommended text for the course and the only one I actually bought, 100%
worth it. It covers everything in a really easy to understand way, with
fantastic diagrams and images. It doesn’t have too much detail but it’s not
really necessary since you really only need the basics to understand a theory
or concept. There’s not a lot of difference between the editions, I currently
have the 4th edition and it’s still relevant and since the new
edition has been published the one I paid for has dropped to only 1/4t of what
I paid for it. So definitely worth getting if you’re going into undergrad
psychology. For higher degrees I’d recommend this if you’re coming onto a
psychology course and are not from that background. If you’re going into
neuroscience or something more biological then this might not be the best
investment, I’d recommend the Purves textbook instead.
Nolte – The Human Brain in Photographs and Diagrams
Not so much a wordy textbook but a necessary resource if you’re
doing neuroscience. This will be your second bible (after the Crossman text)
throughout your learning journey. It’s FANTASTIC. The human brain looks VERY
different to what it does in illustrated diagrams, trust me, and this will be
your hero especially if you don’t have access to real brain dissection labs. It’s
almost IMPOSSIBLE to be able to label a photograph of the human brain when all
you’ve been looking at is illustrations or rendered models, the actual human
brain is really… well, not very distinctive. If I didn’t have dissection class,
finding the blood vessels would have been almost impossible, as well as the internal
structures, they’re VERY subtle so this book will really help you in the
anatomical aspects of the course.
I hope this has been somewhat useful in helping people prepare for a psychology/neuroscience degree and if you have any questions I’m only an ask away! ♥
The blood-brain barrier is a network of specialized cells that surrounds the arteries and veins within the brain. It forms a unique gateway that both provides brain cells with the nutrients they require and protects them from potentially harmful compounds.
The research will appear in Journal of Neuroinflammation.