MENTAL FLOSS, 2012
Copper wire and Glass beads (on Acrylic base and Plexiglas supports)
ALICE M. QUATROCHI GIORGIO A. ASCOLI
Artists and scientists produce work and conduct investigations that can be complementary and coordinated to foster insights and promote new research. Based on this premise, Dr. Giorgio A. Ascoli, Director of the Center for Neural Informatics, Structures, & Plasticity at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study of George Mason University, initiated a unique art-science collaboration to create a scaled sculpture of the neuronal circuitry of the hippocampus, a region of the mammalian brain processing first-person-perspective memories and spatial representation.
In January 2011, SOFAlab, an interdisciplinary vehicle in the Mason School of Art, sponsored an interdisciplinary internship supporting two undergraduates in the arts to work with Dr. Ascoli with generous funding by the Mason Center for Consciousness and Transformation (CCT). This innovative program challenged Alice Quatrochi (Bachelor of Independent Studies) and Katherine (Alex) Giller (Bachelor of Arts, Theater Department) to integrate their artistic skills with neuroscience towards a sculpture that would adhere to real neuronal data (NeuroMorpho.Org). The team, including Mason Neuroscience doctoral candidate Todd A. Gillette, selected 13 representative neuronal morphologies of major hippocampal areas (dentate gyrus, CA3, CA1, and entorhinal cortex), color-coding their complex axons (output trees) and dendrites (input trees). The neurons were scaled and registered in virtual reality against a three-dimensional reconstruction of the rodent hippocampus. The resulting model included excitatory projection neurons, inhibitory local interneurons, and a sample of their characteristic potential circuit connections.
The project then shifted into one of aesthetic choice and artistic rendering once an intense material research concluded and numerous construction techniques evolved. The resulting interdisciplinary combination yields a complex visual experience and a conceptual ambiguity that can potentiate debate, foster dialog, and springboard novel investigations, discoveries, and advances across art and science. The sculpture is normally displayed in the Great Room of the Krasnow building on the main Mason campus in Fairfax, Virginia (USA).