Friday, 20 February 2009

Knit your own brain

Ever had one of those days when your thinking is fuzzy and you feel like your head is full of cotton wool. Well if Karen Norberg has her way, it might possibly be true. Norberg, from the National Bureau of Economic Research in Massachusetts, has knitted an anatomically correct model of the brain. She started this project when she was training to be a child psychiatrist.

The ‘brain’ took a year to knit and Norberg found that once she started, she couldn't stop. The knitting migrated from a late-night time-killer to an after-work obsession. "I would rush home from work and say, 'Oh, I think I'll work on the corpus callosum tonight.” It is incredibly detailed and the cortex of Norberg's larger-than-life brain has realistic folds, while the internal structure is correct down to the nearest stitch. All the parts are properly connected, as can be revealed by undoing a well-concealed zip that connects the two hemispheres. She maintains that "Building a brain with yarn and knitting needles turns out to follow many of the same pathways as actual brain development."
Like all the best art, the brain is a one-off. "This is one of a kind," says Norberg. "It's a labour of love."
The original woollen brain is now housed at the Museum of Science in Boston, but this amazing piece of work can be seen at the online Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art (, curated by neuro-economist Bill Harbaugh of the University of Oregon.

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