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When design meets neuroscience

Perfecting the art of scientific communication

In an effort to engage a wider audience in important scientific research, Neurotransmission: a design exhibit celebrating neuroscience opened Wednesday night at the Pratt Design Gallery.

The project is the result of Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s initiative,The Leading Strand; its aim is to create visual works that convey complex research in an accessible way. Five teams made up of one designer and one neuroscientist each presented a project, the result of a 13-week collaboration.

The burden is often on scientists to share their findings with the public. Unfortunately, many scientists struggle to help the public understand how important their work is. Phingbodhipakkiya views this work as an opportunity to bridge this disconnect, which she saw firsthand in a lab that studied the aging brain. "There is a barrier of understanding," she says. "Design is a way to shine light on information."

Visitors to the packed gallery interacted with the projects while the designer / researcher teams were on hand to answer questions. This first cohort is the "prototype group" and Phingbodhipakkiya plans for the project to expand to include other science disciplines and expand the length of the collaborations to six months. The goal is to get as much research out there as possible. For now, the experiment seems to have been a success, the designer and scientist participants have reported learning from each other and the exhibit has found a home at Columbia University.

Phingbodhipakkiya wants to dispel the idea that these two fields are completely disparate subjects. "May we all remember that science, like art and design is a creative process," she said.

Industrial designer Elaine Khuu was paired with neuroscientist Andrew Bogaard who studies motor functions of the brain. Together they created two machines designed to mimic how signals from the brain trigger movement in the body.

Documentary filmmaker Vicky Du who formerly studied animal behavior was paired with neuroscientist Dhananjay Bambah-Mukku. Together they created a film that looks at Bambah-Mukku’s study of social activity in mice — specifically gender and sexual behavior.

At the opening of Neurotransmission: a design exhibition celebration neuroscience, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, founder and CEO of The Leading Strand, said,"All science should be shared and design can lead the way." For this project, she paired neuroscientists with designers or artists based on their interests and personalities.