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Visualizing the human connectome

For some time I had looked forward to a chance where my passion for artistic data visualization, and my love of neuroscience could collide. I wanted to create an artistic representation of the brain that was scientifically accurate. 

I started with publicly available data from the paper: ‘MIST: A multi-resolution parcellation of functional brain networks’ (Urchs et al, 2017). I am very appreciative to the authors for hosting their article and data on the MNI Open Research platform. The piece was named ‘UrchsBrain’ after the study’s first author, respectfully.


For this piece, I used the connectivity data of functionally-related brain regions at the highest resolution included in the study, containing 444 distinct nodes. Each node was represented as a cluster of neurons, each cluster extended axons to make connections with neurons in other nodes, based on their connectivity data. I simulated firing between cells by drawing curves, paying special attention to the midline crossing to represent the Corpus Callosum. The 2D ‘UrchsBrain’ was intended to be printed on a large canvas with high enough resolution to see individual axons. (which can be ordered at my store)


Additionally,  I wanted to make the data come alive, so I created animations of the same data set, attempting to caputre the electical nature of nerve conduction, while staying true to the connectivity defined in the data. 

The first version contains a montage I created for the 6th Biennial Resting State and Brain Connectivity conference in Montreal in 2018. It combines two videos with some reference images for context.
First, "Random walk through functionally connected brain regions' is a more technical version of the visualization, which includes labels for the region as well as the MIST parcellation naming convention. 

Then, 'Vertebros: Animation of connectivity between neurons of the spinal cord' is pretty much exactly what you would it expect to be.

The shorter, noisier, 3D version of brain connectivity is called 'This is your brain at rest', and it happened to make its way around the world  on Twitter.

And the final piece I am including here is an early look at an ongoing work in progress. My next major artistic goal is to create an immersive dome or VR show about the function of the brain. In a first experiment with equirectangular stereoscopic 360 video, 'NeuroPlanetarium' puts the viewer inside of the brain, looking out at the connections appearing like the offspring of the constellations and the northern lights.

And if any of this work interests you, or you would be interested to collaborate to make a NeuroPlanetarium show a reality, then please don't hesitate to get in touch by email or any of the social channels below.

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