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Art of Neuroscience 2017

You can visit our online gallery to browse through other entries, or download a compilation of all entries with full descriptions in PDF format  

Unknown Variability

Sean Cavanaugh, University College London

Winner 2017



“Unknown Variability” shows the variability of responses of single neurons in the prefrontal cortex to reward-predictive stimuli, whilst animals are making simple decisions (link to paper). The image was featured on the cover of the journal eLife in October 2016. Each line represents a neuron. The neurons are sorted by their resting stability, and neurons with greater resting stability are the lines towards the top of the image. The image shows that neurons with greater stability have stronger responses to the reward-predictive stimuli. The image is also intended to resemble the pioneering 1979 post-punk debut album by Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures



Excitation Locus

Mustafa Hamada, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience

Honorable Mention 2017

“Excitation Locus” is a 3D image of somatodendritic morphology of a thick-tufted layer 5 pyramidal rat neuron recorded in vitro and featured in our article published in PNAS. The red-coloured section highlights the physical boundaries of the axon initial segment. While the axon initial segment occupies a small stretch of axonal membrane, it represents a dynamic signal processing unit within neurons, regulating the integration of synaptic inputs, intrinsic excitability and transmitter release.

The neuron was recorded in vitro and post-hoc processed for biocytin to obtain neuron morphology and betaIV-spectrin (scaffolding protein) to label the axon initial segment. The brain section was later scanned using confocal microscope and optical sections were imported to ImageSurfer2 and Blender to obtain this 3D rendered image.



Dana Simmons

Honorable Mention 2017

To create this image, Simmons loaded a single cerebellar Purkinje neuron with fluorescent dye, which is seen here in gold. The background colors show the texture of the tissue surrounding the neuron. The different stripes are produced by changing the brightness of extra lighting while simultaneously using a confocal microscope to take a scanning picture. In this particular image, it is easy to see the dendritic spines, which are tiny structures that stick off the thin dendrites, and are sites for synaptic plasticity.

The goal of her experiment with this neuron was to study the calcium currents passing through dendritic spines in order to learn about calcium signaling during synaptic transmission in a mouse model of autism. The calcium-sensitive dye travels with the calcium ions, providing me with a visual indicator of where the current goes and how it passes through spines. Simmons is interested in spines, because they are one place where excitatory synapses are found in the cerebellum.





Root and Branch Brain

Michele Banks, United States

Honorable Mention 2017

Banks’ artwork is inspired by neuroscience in two major ways. First, the huge scientific and technological advances in imaging, from Brainbows to MAP-seq, are gradually making available clearer and more accurate images of the brain, its structure and functions. These images are so beautiful on their own that they have inspired her to make several paintings like Batik Retinal Neuron and Black and White Neurons.

Second, the growth of neuroscience research – for example, studies linking the brain and the gut microbiome – encourages us to think in new ways about the nature of cognition and emotion. Banks’ brain slice paintings, such as Root and Branch Brain (depicted) and Neural Pathways, explore these ideas in a more metaphorical way.



Point of Change

Daniel Barkan, The Netherlands

Honorable Mention 2017

“For my artistic research I have decided to work on a new innovative practice which introduces neurofeedback in dancers’ daily practice. As a dancer and choreographer without a medical-science background, I decided to research the subject and practice neurofeedback myself with the ambition to start a new generation of dance. 

I discovered a new exciting world connecting art and science and was inspired. In this submission dancers move and dance to shape a brain with ropes, which at the same time this also shapes and influences their movement. The act is improvised and the idea is that each time we perform the piece the result is different (to emphasize the plasticity of our brain and creativity). The music used will be the soundtrack of the neurofeedback sessions (as to give a shape to the sound of our brain when it is shifting and changing; the brain is creating its own music). I called the dance piece ‘point of change’ as for my personal experience with the neurofeedback training, I was amazed to feel major physical and mental change in my body, my perception and my being.”


The AoN staff  of 2017 also chose to share additional works that caught their eye! 


Slicing the Rat Connectome

Michel Sinke, Utrecht Medical Centre

(together with, Alexander Leemans, Rick M. Dijkhuizen, Willem M. Otte, Annette van der Toorn and Paul L. Weerheim)




Non-invasive diffusion MRI-based quantification of whole-brain axonal connections combines the power of sensitive, non-invasive tissue probing, with accurate multi resolution tract reconstructions, by means of multi-shell global tractography, in rat brain left in the skull. This tissue-friendly method creates unique potential for longitudinal studies. The simultaneous access to local microstructure information and global stereotaxic orientation already provided us with unique insights in the axonal olfactory bulb pathways in the rats, in the cerebellar topology and the complex fiber bundle crossings in cortico-striatal circuits. The corpus callosum, cingulum bundle, brainstem and the arbor vitae of the cerebellum can be clearly made out.

The Brain

Brennan Klein, Northeastern University


Recently, Klein found myself trying to analyze calcium imaging data from cortical neurons of a mouse. The patterns of activity in these data were astonishing. In front of him were hundreds of blob-like neurons, periodically bursting in a slow, greenish glow, illuminating the sinewy connections between them. It was as if these cells were collectively breathing, as if they were a giant mass of organized chaos, little starlings flocking and unflocking, under no central command, loosely maintaining order. The most beautiful patterns emerge during a massive migration of birds, and they emerge simply from local interactions between the component parts of the system. This observation can be powerfully described using principles from complexity science and methods from network science, both of which have also richly informed the study of neuroscience in recent years. It is an exciting time to be a scientist, and Klein has tried to convey his own excitement in the details of every single part of this piece.



Starry Night

Christophe Leterrier, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique


Hippocampal neurons after two days in culture, fixed and labeled for microtubules (cyan) and actin (orange). Isolated neurons or group of neurons have been manually shifted relative to the others in order to obtain a more regular image. The whole image represents an area of 1365×1024 microns.






Mindless Process

Krisztina Czika, Gerrit Rietveld Academy 


“The project was inspired by the lecture, ‘If brains are computers, who designs the software?’ by Daniel Dennett. His thoughts and examples shaped my conceptual art and design perspective. We live in a society where technology has developed to such an extent because of our improved intelligence over time. Questions, dreams and fantasies start to relate to each other, so I asked myself: Would it be possible to recreate the nervous system with a technological process, like 3D printing? Instead of using already existing 3D printing systems, I started autonomously working with chemistry and electricity. My aim was to make these two elements communicate with each other to create an interpretation of the nervous system. The process is simple: halogen lights using electricity provide heat that slowly warms up the glass. Since glass has the advantage of remaining at a consistent heat, the wax is able to change consistency and melt. The motion of dripping and melting creates ‘prints’ and the shape of the prints are based on the heat settings.


Today, the first intelligent designers in the tree of life (with reference to Daniel Dennett) are in the position of being able to collaborate with science, explore the crossovers and discover new perspectives. In my project I worked together with Arthur Maduro who has build the wooden construction for the installation, further with Pierre Niviere (video edit) and Robert Riphagen (capturing the result).”


Harmony in Numbers

Marvin Weigand, FIAS & ESI Frankfurt


Weigand_Marvin_FIAS and ESI Frankfurt


In this work we show that according to optimal wiring principles, neural maps appear suddenly with increasing cell numbers (here along the spiral towards the middle), even as the underlying connectivity remains unchanged. Each dot represents a neuron at its specific location and colors indicate the feature tuning of these neurons, e.g. their orientation preference in the visual cortex.

Tiled Autophagy

Claudio Bussi, University of North Carolina




Electron microscope image showing a microglial lysosome (left, big vesicle) and a double-membrane autophagosome (right, small vesicle) in close proximity. Autophagy is an intracellular degradation system that delivers cytoplasmic constituents to the lysosome. As an essential process to maintain cellular homeostasis and functions, autophagy is responsible for the lysosome-mediated degradation of damaged proteins and organelles, and thus misregulation of autophagy can result in a variety of pathological conditions in human beings. The image captured the instant before lysosomal fusion.


The Creation of Inspiration

Robin Scharrenberg, University of Hamburg


“Only after the intellect has planned

The best and highest, can the ready hand

Take up the brush and try all things received.”

– Michelangelo

This image is inspired by Michelangelos “The Creation of Adam”. Depicted in it is a montage of two pyramidal cells from the upper layer of the somatosensory cortex of mice brains. With an in-utero electroporation approach the cells were labeled with GFP. These cells were then submitted to confocal imaging and to give the resulting image the look of an old fresco it is displayed in false colors, with processes in the background acting as the blemishes of an aged fresco. 

The Contribution is an interpretation of “The Creation of Adam” with processes of the two neurons pointing towards each other to form a “synapse” so the “divine spark” can pass. The resulting change in activity enabling inspiration to take form.


Brain Connectivity Leap

Filipe Rodrigues, Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme


Rodrigues developed Brain Connectivity Leap (BCL) in Unity (game engine) while he was a MSc intern at the Institute of Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering. It is essentially an interactive Virtual Reality (VR) interface in which the user can use his/her hands (thanks to a Leap Motion controller-hand tracking device) to disturb a 3D reconstruction (based on T1-weighted MR images) of a segmented human brain (using the AAL parcellation atlas) and its underlying network of connectivity graphs (calculated using DTI).


This work won the “Best Representation of the Human Connectome” award in the Brain-Art competition hosted by The Neuro Bureau in 2016. Additionally, Rodrigues has since implemented a non-VR touch-screen version of BCL, Brain Connectivity Touch, that is now featured in a live sciences museum in Mafra, Portugal.