25 February 2011

Silent Barrage at the Science Gallery


Took some time off on Wednesday from work, the election, and the obsessive photographing of UpStart posters to vist the Science Gallery for the closing days of the Visceral exhibition.

Visceral has been one of the more exotic series the Gallery has hosted, focused on what it calls Living Art. The exhibition has included books made from human skin (both organic and lab grown), portraiture in E.coli, music made through bovine bones, Thunderdome combat with white blood cells and much more.

The one that really stopped me in my tracks though was the Silent Barrage exhibit.

Somewhere in Atlanta there sits a lab, and in that lab there sits a culture dish containing neurons harvested from embryonic rats. These neurons are connected to a number of sensors and activators which themselves are connected to then internet. In the Science Gallery stand an array of columns covered in paper. Attached to each column is a robot that can travel up and down the column and draw on the paper. As people pass through the columns a camera tracks their movement and relays this movement pattern over the internet back to the lab in Atlanta. Depending on the pattern of movement individual neurons are stimulated manually. The neurons react and then organically transmit a signal to other nearby neurons in the same culture.

This communication between neurons is then transmitted back to the Science Gallery, each neuron mapping onto a column and the level of activity in that neuron represented by lines drawn on the paper by the robot. As people move on to investigate the more active robots, their movement triggers yet more activity in the culture dish in Atlanta, more neurons fire and robots on other columns swing into action. By chronicling these actions and reactions the scientists behind the experiment hope to map seemingly random brain activity in greater detail and gain insights into disorders such as epilepsy.

As you walk through the rows of columns the feeling of physically travelling through an active brain is impossible to escape. The electrical activity of thoughts, or at the least of instinctive actions, is made tangible, and, well, visceral.

The exhibit, unfortunately, is now over, but yet again this shows why the Science Gallery is one of the best things the city has to offer.

This message has been brought to you by Unkie Dave's Campaign to Try and Love the City of Dublin, and by the election day moratorium on talking about things to do with the election.

Links
Visceral, at the Science Gallery
Photos - contains images and concepts some may find disturbing

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