This week, I sent Richelle some short texts about neuroscience, autism, the cerebellum, and experimental techniques used in my research. We met on Google Hangout on Sunday to discuss our plans for the collaborative project, which will include both text and images. In addition to the texts I sent, Richelle suggested some additional questions that would be interesting topics to write about. In the next week, I’ll explore writing about differences between human brains and mouse brains, how scientists slice brains for experiments, and how mice can model diseases such as autism.
In case you’re curious, this is what a mouse brain looks like:
This photo shows a mouse brain. The two large frontal hemispheres are on the left, and the cerebellum (the part I study) is on the right. A mouse brain is about the size of your thumbnail. In a mouse brain, the frontal hemispheres are smooth, but in a human brain, the frontal hemispheres are wrinkly and folded to maximize surface area for higher functions.
We’re thinking that we could hopefully continue our collaboration after The Bridge residency ends to learn more from each other and merge artwork with science texts. Both Richelle and I are excited about the future possibility of continuing our collaborative project and inviting more scientists to join the partnership to write about their own area of expertise. Maybe someday we’ll make a coffee table book!
In addition to working on more text for our collaborative project, I’ve been working on some new experiments in the lab. I’m taking a few weeks away from my autism research to work on an experiment that aims to clarify how processes such as learning and memory happen in the cerebellum. For this new experiment, I’m still working with cerebellar slices filling Purkinje cells with dye. I use this dye to visualize how calcium travels through a Purkinje cell.
This image (above) shows a page of my lab notes from the new experiment. I make notes about the health of the neuron, the quality of the patch between the glass tube (pipette) and the neuron, and also the types of electrical stimulation that I’m testing on that particular neuron.
After meeting with Dana this week, I got to learn more about her day-to-day life in the lab. As an outsider looking in, I asked simple questions to help visualize her experience. Do you work with a piece of brain everyday? What kind of mice do you study? What color are they? How do you know if a mouse is autistic? How big is the team at the lab? Is the brain alive when you work? All of these questions gave me a clearer idea of her routine, what the lab looks like, and how she works. Dana’s research is so precise, requires a quick hand, and is an intricate endeavor.
This week I reviewed several texts she sent to me that answer a range of questions, some specific to her research about autism and the cerebellum, and other broad questions that many of us (not wearing lab coats) have always wondered, like “why do scientists use mice to study diseases?” I decided to create a new drawing inspired by her answer to this question. So far, I have compiled many images including the black mice (which are used at the lab), mice brains, human brains, mazes, modular forms, and more. This serves as a mood board for our text/art project. A mood board typically consists of an arrangement of images, materials, or text intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.
My mood board - a collection of images/symbols that came to mind when reading Dana’s texts.
For this drawing I hope to link the “man” and the “mouse” by overlaying imagery to show that they have striking commonalities. Dana’s text describes how mice are receptive to most human diseases and respond in similar ways, which is crucial for researching cures and understanding threats. I will post her final text after artwork is completed for her elaborate response. In this drawing, I hope to link imagery by creating a maze-like brain that ties the content together. It is fairly challenging to describe before I make it, but I have an idea that I am excited to show you when it is complete. I tend to work in layers of overlapping imagery so this drawing will most likely undergo a lot of changes. Below are the beginnings of this new visual interpretation of Dana’s question.
I look forward to turning her words to life!
Contemplating ways to merge the iconic “mouse in a maze” symbol to link human brain and mouse brain in a seamless way.
Calcium plays a large role in the molecular mechanisms for learning and memory, so it’s important to be able to visualize where and when it flows through neurons. My goal with this experiment is to visualize where the calcium flows in response to different types of electrical stimulation. The different types of electrical stimulation mimic how we think the cells learn and form memories in coordination with the other nearby neurons.
The data that I’m collecting with the new dye look a little different from what I collected with the old dye. However, from an aesthetic perspective, the neurons still look the same since all the color is added with imaging software. Without any dye, neurons are colorless. The normal color of a brain is a pale pink-ish hue that has some gray and some white mixed in. Here’s a photo of a Purkinje cell that I filled with the new dye:
This image shows a recording for electrical signals in a Purkinje cell from my new experiment. The vertical fluctuations in the black line represent changes in the direction that ions (ex: sodium, potassium, calcium) are flowing in and out of a patched Purkinje cell.
As a scientist, I’m not accustomed to doing things like transporting art around the county. During our meeting, I asked Richelle for her advice on shipping art for The Bridge symposium in February. She told me about this cool way to make artwork on paper appear to be floating on the wall by using nails and magnets. Since none of the work I’ve done is framed, I’m planning to look into that and try to float some of my art.