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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Branching into art

by Brianna Barbu
October 25, 2022

A colorful microscope image of a highly branched neuron.
Credit: Dana Simmons

Neuroscientist and artist Dana Simmons brings life science into living color with her Pop Art–inspired images of Purkinje cells, highly branched neurons found in the cerebellum that are involved in balance, posture, and coordination.

Simmons started turning neurons into art in 2015, while working on a PhD in neurobiology at the University of Chicago. Her research focused on how motor neurons communicate with each other in a mouse model of autism. She loved looking at the intricately branched cells under the microscope, illuminated with fluorescent dyes, and became inspired to try sharing what she was seeing with a wider audience. In spare moments at the microscope, she created stylized images of the neurons by altering the background lighting, contrast, scanning speed, and color filters in the image processing software.

Since then, Simmons’ Purkinje portraits and digital collages have won science art awards and graced the covers of scholarly journals, textbooks, and even a coloring book. Several of her artworks are currently on display at the Hill Center in Washington, DC.

Credit: Dana Simmons. Follow her on Twitter @dhsimmons1 or Instagram @purkinjepattern.

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