Cerebrum Article

Between Thought and Expression

The Artwork of Greg Dunn
Published: April 15, 2021
Author: Bill Glovin

Self Reflected, an artistic visualization of the human brain, was created over two years from scratch by a team that included neuroscientists, engineers, physicists, and students and is a hyperdetailed representation and simulation of 500,000 neurons in a sagittal slice.

Greg Dunn was on his way to a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania when he realized that bringing the brain’s beauty to life was a more suitable role for him than lab work. He started in ink, inspired by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean paintings and the similarities he found in the microscopic world of neurons and the macroscopic world of trees, flowers, and other landscape images.

From there, he branched out to microetchings, gold leaf, scrolls, and murals. Microetching, which consists of creating animated images by precisely controlling light’s reflection off of surfaces, was invented by Dunn and collaborator Brian Edwards, Ph.D., an applied physicist at the University of Pennsylvania. ”Microetchings are made through a complex process of hand drawing, computer manipulation, algorithmic simulation, photolithography, gilding, and strategic lighting design,” he explains. “No images are taken verbatim from a photograph or scan.”

Here is just a small sampling of work. More can be found on his website and at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the National Gallery of China, the Museum of Science in Boston, some of the top universities and medical centers in the US, and in private collections. Dunn, who resides with his family in Sofia, Bulgaria, but maintains a studio in Philadelphia, sees his art “as a reference in brain-related fields due to its scientific accuracy and ability to engage the public in the complex themes of the brain.”

We agree. Enjoy the show.

Brainbow Hippocampus depicts the actively firing anatomy and complex circuitry of the hippocampus, the hub of learning, memory, and integration of experience in the brain. The reflective animations highlight the circuitry and output to the entorhinal cortex and subiculum.
Glia and Blood Vessels. Glia cells, which protect neurons from one another and regulates the movement of signals, are enwrapped by blood vessels, which course through and feed neural tissue.
Wisteria Neuron marries the fractal-like forms of neurons and the botanical branching structures of plants. The convergent branching patterns of neurons and plants serve similar functions in interacting with their environments—synaptic neural connections for the neurons, light for the plants.
Detail of the cerebellum—the part of the brain that plays a vital role in virtually all physical movement—from Self Reflected under multicolored light.
Cortex in Red and Gold features the cortex, which is responsible for a huge variety of brain related functions. “Evolution has adapted the cortex’s unique structure to take on a staggering number of tasks, and there is no part of the human brain which greater differentiates us from other species,” says Dunn.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of our Cerebrum magazine. Click the cover for the full e-magazine.