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.