Extremely ambitious 3D printed brain exhibited in Philadelphia

Your Brain is a fascinating new exhibition in Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, focussed on all things cranial. An interactive experience that encourages visitors to discover the truth behind why they truly think their innermost thoughts, it’s a multisensory journey to the bottom of the human brain.

Your Brain 3D printing

As you walk through Your Brain, the environment reacts to your movements, your footsteps triggering shifts in sound and light, each step revealing new information. At the centre of this exploratory, creative class in cogitation is a massive intricate model of the white matter part of everybody’s second favourite organ.

Your Brain exhibition

To make this startling centre-piece, Franklin Institute Chief Bio-Scientist and exhibit developer Dr. Jayatri Das turned to 3D printing. Explaining the decision, he says:

Our philosophy behind our exhibits is to make real science approachable through hands-on, engaging exhibits. From an educational point of view, we knew that the concept of functional pathways needed to be an important aspect of brain science that was addressed in the exhibit, and diffusion tensor imaging gets to the heart of the real science through which scientists try to understand the wiring of these pathways. The 2D images we had seen were really beautiful, so we thought that a large-scale 3D print would be perfect as an intriguing, eye-catching sculpture that would serve as both a unique design focus and a connection to research.

For those of you not familiar with what’s going on inside your noggin, the white matter refers to the fibres that connect the various grey matter parts that govern sensory perception.

3D printing brain

The creative process began with a an MRI scan of a 40 year old man, which Dr Henning U. Voss, Associate Producer of Physics in Radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College, used to design a 3D data file. With over 2,000 white matter stands, the data file was crazily complicated, and the team quickly realised it would be far too complex to print on a standard additive manufacturing device.

White Matter 3D printing

This is where Direct Dimensions, a firm specialising in ultra complex prints, came in. As its Art Director, Harry Abrahamson put it:

This work required a highly skilled technician with just the right disposition. Without the right human resources, this project would have never happened. With about 2,000 strands to sort through, it was a task of immense proportions. Mind boggling, in fact.

Alongside American Precision Printing, Direct Dimensions created the model using a 3D Systems sProHD 60 Selective Laser Sintering device. In order to meet the hefty 26 inch length the Franklin Institute wanted for their model, it had to be printed in 10 pieces (each of which came with a 22 hour print time) that were then assembled into the finished piece that now sits in the centre of Your Brain.

3D printed white matter brain

Check out the video below to find out more about this compelling exhibition.

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