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FLASHES OF BRILLIANCE

Heading back to the car after the launch of the MRI machine at medical imaging research centre Matai Research, a Gisborne Herald reporter and photographer were buttonholed in the corridor by a young boffin.

He spoke in Science and was hard to understand but it was impossible not to be swept along with his enthusiasm, his passion and sheer delight in the gracefully fibrous and fluro-neuro psychedelic imagery on his laptop screen.

While he was ostensibly focused on the science, his excitement over the neuro art Matai's technology produced on-screen was infectious. With the help of Matai's MRI machine, two Auckland-based scientists recently won category awards in two neuro art competitions. We'll come back to that shortly.

Not only can Matai Research's magnetic resonance imaging machine provide detailed imagery of the brain (and other parts of the body), it can walk the viewer through a series of planes as the scan travels through the organ. What's more, the images are rendered in hyper-colour and brushstrokes of fibre bundles and tendrils.

The machine can also scan other parts of the body such as the soleus muscle in the lower leg. This is the focus of Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) and Matai Research's collaborative study of cerebral palsy in children and teens. If participants wish, scans of the abstract design and hyper-colour derived from their soleus will be sent to them.

American Greg Dunn merged his love of neuroscience with his love of Asian art — the minimalist scroll and screen painting from the Edo period in Japan, particularly.

“Therefore, it was a fine day when two of my passions came together upon the realisation that the elegant forms of neurons . . . can be painted expressively in the Asian sumi-e style,” writes Dunn.

“Neurons may be tiny in scale, but they possess the same beauty seen in traditional forms of the medium (trees, flowers, and animals).”

While Dunn's work has featured on the covers of Scientific American and Wired magazines, he never had the advantage of access to Matai Research's state-of-the-art technology.

Using images from Matai's 3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging system, Maryam Tayebi from the ABI and Dr Eryn Kwon from the Matai Medical Research Institute won the Neurological Foundation staff choice award with their creation, Into the Depths, in a Flashes of Brilliance competition.

The luminous, jellyfish-like form in the picture is actually a human brain.

“By slightly changing your view, you can find extraordinary pictures within your brain,” says a note accompanying the image.

“The hood of this jellyfish is the top of your head and the arms are your neural fibre tracts. Some species of jellyfish produce ‘flashes of brilliance' through bioluminescence, and the flashes of human brilliance are visualised here, thanks to the advanced medical imaging technique tractography.”

In neuroscience, tractography is a 3D-modelling technique used to visually represent nerve tracts using data collected by diffusion MRI, Wikipedia tells us.

“It uses special techniques of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computer-based diffusion MRI. The results are presented in two- and three-dimensional images called tractograms.”

Judges for the Neurological Foundation's Flashes of Brilliance competition came from a range of disciplines and included Museum of Transport and Technology chief executive Michael Frawley, artist Michel Tuffrey, fine arts lecturer and artist, Dr Simon Ingram, Otago Museum's Humanities collection manager, Anne Harlow, and Otago Museum's science communicator, Stephen Mathew.

Tayebi also won the visualisation and analysis category of the Biomedical Imaging Research Unit's more prosaically titled “image competition” with Open Mind, her image of the human brain in a radiant network of yellow and fiery orange fibres. Beneath the luminous dome is what appears to be a distorted blue face.

“This diffusion MR image was taken by a GE 3T Signa MRI scanner at Matai Research Institute,” writes Tayebi.

“If you open your mind, you will see the light shining inside it.”

NEURO ART: Created by Maryam Tayebi from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and Dr Eryn Kwon from the Matai Medical Research Institute, the duo's Into the Depths, won the people's choice award in a Flashes of Brilliance competition. Picture supplied
NEURO ART: Maryam Tayebi won the visualisation and analysis category of the Biomedical Imaging Research Unit's photographic competition with her image of the human brain in a radiant network of yellow and fiery orange fibres. Picture supplied