Jan 1, 2016 | By Benedict

Sculptor Ralph Helmick has designed a massive 3D printed sculpture of a human brain, to be installed at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.

Ralph Helmick, image from The Boston Globe

The McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT can be found in Kendall Square, Cambridge, a hive of scientific and technological activity. The Institute is led by world-renowned scientists, each looking to solve the mysteries of the brain and its associated disorders. Perhaps surprisingly, the entrance to the Institute has remained quietly unassuming for several years, belying the groundbreaking work carried out by its plethora of resident neuroscientists. Visitors to the Institute, which sits on the third floor of its building, are greeted by toilets, an elevator and some stairs—hardly an indication that one is entering one of the most important research organizations of its kind.

To stamp its identity onto the Kendall Square premises, the Institute has commissioned artist Ralph Helmick to produce a giant, hanging sculpture, which will adorn the currently bare entrance lobby. Inspired by the research being carried out upstairs, Helmick has created a huge 3D printed sculpture of the human brain, consisting of 100 3D printed bronze and stainless steel “neurons” which will hang suspended from the ceiling. The cluster of floating 3D printed neurons will guide visitors to the stairs which lead to the Institute’s third-floor entrance. Looking back on the cluster from those steps, visitors will see them form the shape of a brain—a visual trick known as anamorphosis. “It’s a way to introduce another level of optical discovery,” Helmick said.

How the sculpture will appear from the designated vantage point. Image from The Boston Globe

The visual trickery and 3D printed construction are both products of Helmick’s imagination, but the neuroscience theme was included in the Institute’s brief. Pat and Lore Harp McGovern, who founded the Institute in 2000, had for a number of years wanted an installation which accurately yet playfully portrayed the work being carried out at the Institute, and Helmick’s piece looks as though it will tick all the right boxes. The sculptor worked closely with McGovern researchers while designing the giant 3D printed sculpture, whose individual “neurons” will be finished in gold leaf to capture light. Institute director Robert Desimore hopes the ambitious project will inspire other research institutes to follow suit in tailoring the aesthetic of their premises to their work. “I hope all our neighbors come over and see it,” Desimore said of Helmick’s piece.

The McGovern brain sculpture does not represent Helmick’s first foray into 3D printing. The sculptor worked with Stratasys in 2008 to produce Constellation, a collection of 354 3D printed creatures suspended on steel cables. That piece was featured at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, representing the area’s native wildlife. Constellation used Stratasys’ QuantumCast process, with each piece being 3D printed in U0080DC-L Water Clear Urethane. Unfortunately, the painstaking effort required to produce the transparent finish for each piece was undone in 2013, by which time UV damage from constant exposure to sunlight had taken its toll on several pieces. Luckily, Helmick was able to restore each affected piece, and the renamed Prospect was returned to the center in June 2014.

Prospect. Images from Ralph Helmick.

Jurisprudents. Image from Ralph Helmick.

Helmick’s other projects include Jurisprudents, a sculpture displayed in the Melvin Price Federal Courthouse, East St. Louis, IL which consists of twelve 3D printed heads representing the twelve members of a jury, and Flock, a collection of 3D printed birds in flight displayed at the Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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