Psychiatrist Hand-Knits an Anatomically Correct Replica of the Human Brain

Knitted Human Brain by Dr Karen Norberg

The human brain is often described as the most complex organ in the human body. The mass of tissue weighs around 1.4 kilograms and contains a mind-boggling network of around 1,000,000,000 nerve cells (aka neurons). Each neuron can make contact with thousands of others via tiny structures called synapses. These constant and ever-changing connections are how memories are stored, habits are learned, and personalities are shaped. One person with a special fascination with the human brain is Dr Karen Norberg. A psychiatrist from the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Norberg spent an entire year knitting an incredible, anatomically correct replica of the central organ.

Made in 1994, the 9-inch textile sculpture comprises different sections hand-knitted from colorful cotton yarn that were then stitched together into the labyrinthine structure. The frontal cortex is represented in cream and pale green; the visual cortex is depicted in a mix of blue, purple and turquoise; and the hippocampus is made up of baby pink yarn. The two sides of the brain are joined together by a zip, while the cerebellum at the base of the organ is knitted in blue and the spinal cord appears as long white strands of cotton.

As a labor of love, Dr. Norberg felt there were two aspects to her ambitious project. “One was simply to undertake such a ridiculously complex, time consuming project for no practical reason,” she says. “The second was the idea of making a somewhat mysterious and difficult object—a brain—out of a ‘cuddly,’ cheerful, familiar material like cotton yarn.”

The textile brain was on display at the Boston Museum of Science for about 10 years, but has recently returned to Norberg's home.

Psychiatrist Dr. Karen Norberg knitted an incredible, anatomically correct replica of the human brain.

Knitted Human Brain by Dr Karen Norberg

Here’s a comparison of the textile sculpture alongside scans of a real human brain.

Knitted Human Brain by Dr Karen Norberg

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Dr Karen Norberg.

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Emma Taggart

Emma Taggart is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. Originally from Northern Ireland, she is an artist now based in Berlin. After graduating with a BA in Fashion and Textile Design in 2013, Emma decided to combine her love of art with her passion for writing. Emma has contributed to various art and culture publications, with an aim to promote and share the work of inspiring modern creatives. While she writes every day, she’s also devoted to her own creative outlet—Emma hand-draws illustrations and is currently learning 2D animation.
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