The CamBRAIN festive Neuro-Art Competition took place in the hidden gem of Selwyn college – The Diamond room. Just 5 minute-walk away from King’s, it is perfectly distant from the hustle and bustle of the main street. The competition attracted almost 30 performing and visual artists from all over Cambridge and beyond.
Brain science offers a multitude of questions to ponder on and explore through painting, as does the Visual Artist Judge Valeriya N-Georg (http://www.valeriya-n-georg.com). Coming from a fine arts background, Valeriya insightfully integrates medical and scientific concepts in her works through collaborations with professionals working in these fields, as seen in “Grey Matter”, “Astrocyte”, and “Gardens of the Unconscious” among other pieces. The work she decided to share with CamBRAIN was “Deepest Imprints: Perfect Harmony” based on prenatal brain development research by Kitty Hagenbach. Valeriya helped us assess creativity and deeper meanings of the artwork.
To the contrary, Steve Cross, the Performing Artist Judge, has a solid background in science and a PhD degree. Rather than following a typical career path, he has decided to combine his interest in stand-up comedy with science to create Science Showoff (http://www.scienceshowoff.org). He thinks that scientists have a few hidden fun sides to share, and Science Showoff is an inspirational project which aims to both bring a comic relief in a professional work field and engage with lay public. Additionally, it offers an alternative to the status quo of an academic career progression as it demonstrates that there is no limit to what you can do with your degree. Steve was critical of the novelty of concepts and presentation skills.
Lastly, your humble servant (Nataly Martynyuk) had the pleasure to be the Science Judge. Long time before I realised that my hand dexterity longs for a dissection scalpel and forceps, I attended art classes and was foretold a career as a painter. I have no regrets about not pursuing it, even though I continue scribbling in my rare spare time of a PhD candidate. I have done scientific illustrations for research groups in Cambridge and London, as well as completed several murals in a psychiatric ward of Mile End hospital as a part of a volunteering clinical project. The work I presented for CamBRAIN was inspired by my microscopy experience, which reveals “A Universe For My Eyes Only”. My job was to evaluate the relevance of the media to the depicted ideas and ensure scientific accuracy.
The number of astonishing art pieces we were presented with made it extremely difficult to choose winners. The variety of media did not make it any easier, and a few pieces were leading only by a whisker.
The first prize was deservedly taken by David Jane’s (http://david-jane.info) “Self-Portraits”, which have playfully explored MRI scans as a series of prints. While Artist Judges were mesmerised by how David has transformed something as trivial as a piece of scan into creative images and collaged them to make them look nothing like the original, I appreciated the idea of thinking of ‘self’ on the portraits in a neurological way.
The second prize went to Dana Galili and her comedy sketch. She was fun, witty, and truly made the evening brighter. Besides, her stories about fly mating behaviour were somewhat educational, as she pointed out that “there is a lot we can learn from the flies”.
The audience agreed to disagree with the judges and awarded “Bipolar Flight” by Hannah Belcher with the popularity prize.
Heleen, Jessica, Jon and the rest of the CamBRAIN committee have ensured the smooth and timely event organisation with the only regret that Veselina could not join us on the day.
Regardless of who got the prizes, everyone who attended has certainly won.
The biennial Cambridge Neuroscience Symposium attracts neuroscientists from within and well beyond Cambridge. This year the theme was ‘Imaging the Nervous System’. The programme brought together a wide range of techniques to visualise and better understand the processes underlying everything from the intra-cellular RNA expression to the behaviour of nematodes and the development of human psychopathology. The event was attended by 400 delegates and featured 25 research talks and over 90 research posters. The symposium was opened by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.
Day one focused on recent advances in fundamental neuroscience. Every presenter, as you may expect, showed off his or her exceptional images of the nervous system at the microscopic scale. The first session, chaired by Professor Bill Harris, kicked off with a discussion of how neuronal circuits evolve, from those in the hippocampus and amygdala of zebra fish (Kawakami), to the Drosophilia fruit fly (Cardona) and the stunning brainbow mice (Livet). This work was thrown into perspective by Professor Helmstaedter whose video of neurons imaged using electron microscopy reminded us how densely packed the cells of the central nervous system actually are. His talk promoted the “citizen science” games BrainFlight and Eyewire that have made tracking the exceptionally high volume of data that has been collected a fun game that anyone can take part in solving.
On Saturday the 11th July, CamBRAINiacs came together at St Barnabas Church for our society’s first ever Brain Art Exhibition. This was a reception to showcase the artworks submitted to our neuroart competition ‘Untangling Mind & Brain’, which opened in mid-March.
What a fantastic atmosphere, overflowing with charisma, talent and, of course, Pimm’s. We were fortunate to have such a wonderful collection of paintings, drawings, photographs and digital artworks. Even less conventional forms such as textile art and poetry were present. Given that neuroscientists often use imaging techniques to explore the mind and brain, we were expecting digital artworks to be heavily represented. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to receive various artworks relying on items that are not ordinarily found in the lab – such as a brush, a palette and a canvas. Never underestimate a neuroscientist’s craft outside the workplace!