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Art Neuro: Brain Evolution

Posted by on November 20, 2014
Supatra Marsh at the Art Neuro exhibtion

Dr Supatra Marsh at the Art Neuro exhibition (Image: Eddie Andress)

By Dr Supatra Marsh, BBSRC Policy Fellow at the Society of Biology, Founder of Art Neuro, and awardee of the Society of Biology Regional Grant Scheme.

Art Neuro is a science communication project that aims to inform and excite the public about current neuroscience research through the medium of art. Over the past four months Art Neuro has brought together a collective of more than 30 neuroscientists and artists who have been collaborating to bring current neuroscience research to the public in the form of 16 original art pieces. These were displayed at the Art Neuro exhibition that took place from the 6th-9th November in East London. Over the four days we hosted a number of interactive events and workshops where visitors got the chance to learn about the brain and get involved in science and art, e.g. a memory workshop, knitting neurons, a mental health panel discussion, and screen printing the evolution of the brain.

Dr Sophie Scott FSB screen printing brains

Professor Sophie Scott FSB screen printing brains

The brain evolution screen printing workshops on Saturday and Sunday were funded by the Society of Biology’s Regional Grant Scheme. The Sunday workshop kicked off with an informal presentation from Professor Sophie Scott FSB (UCL) and Professor Maurice Elphick (QMUL). Sophie spoke about how smell had been down played in primates, which can be seen in their flatter faces and in the brain as demonstrated by tiny olfactory bulbs (responsible for sense of smell) while visual and auditory processing are much more important. She also pointed out how we have evolved to have big brains which is why our new-born babies do not immediately get up, feed and walk around like other mammals. We need to balance the size of our baby’s head with the size of our birth canal all with the added complication that we walk on two legs! She finished by making the point that our brain weighs about 1-2% or our body weight but use about 20% of the oxygen in our blood making them extremely expensive; “they cost us a lot and are capable of almost anything”.

Maurice delved into the special cells that make up our brain – the neurons. DNA sequencing is changing our understanding of life on Earth due to the advances in this technology “you can sequence the genome of any animal for relatively little money”. He discussed the controversy in the scientific community over the hypothesis that the neuron has evolved more than once.

After we had been suitably immersed in how evolution has taken us from the simplest of nervous systems to the highly complicated human brain it was time for screen printing. Textile designer, Zeena Shah, led attendees in printing different species’ brains onto tea towels, bags, and cushion covers. The resulting creations were a thing of beauty and will hopefully give people something by which to remember Art Neuro and our experts’ insights into brain evolution.

I would like to thank the Society of Biology for supporting Art Neuro: we will be back next year with a busy programme of events.

If you have a great idea for an event, the second round of the Regional Grant Scheme is now open for applications.

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