Data as Art: Textured Brain
The brain is a monotone mass of neurons that is often difficult to pick apart, even on a dissection table. Yet through a technique called diffusion MRI, which measures the spread of water molecules through neural tissue, researchers can add revealing color to the maze of connections.
Ultra-strong magnetic fields on the order of 7 teslas (about 1,400 times stronger than a refrigerator magnet) manipulate the water molecules along tracks of white matter neurons, breaking the movement into three basic directions.
Left–right tracks of neural tissue are represented by red, front–back tracks by green and top–bottom tracks by blue. Each track winds around in a specific way, lending it a unique color. Functional clusters of white matter emerge as colored regions. “It’s a smart way to transform something so complex into something simple and immediately comprehensible,” Margulies says of the diffusion MRI technique.