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The Mütter Museum’s new exhibit: A Penn PhD student’s art inspired by brain scans

When Greg Dunn was at Penn working toward his PhD in neuroscience, he was struck by something about the brain scans he was seeing all day.

The shape of the neurons reminded Dunn of the trees and branches in the art of east Asia. So Dunn connected with an electrical engineer and developed a new form of artistry called micro-etchings, a way of printing that allows viewers to see different lighting and images as they view the art from different angles.

His pieces make up the Mütter Museum’s newest solo exhibition called Mind Illuminated, which features Dunn’s work. At a preview Thursday, Dunn explained that for the last several years, he’s worked to develop ways to create art that looks like what brain scans might look like, but is a functional experience for people walking through the exhibit.

The Mütter Museum, near 22nd and Chestnut streets, is a medical museum that features collections of medical oddities, models and specimens.

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This is one of the micro-etchings that hangs in Dunn's exhibition at the museum.

In addition to paintings and blown ink on gold leaf and Asian-style scrolls, micro-etchings line the sides of the Thomson Gallery in the museum, and the colors of the images change as you walk around the exhibition room — giving viewers a multi-dimensional experience.

The technique of micro-etching, which took Dunn and electrical engineer Brian Edwards about a year and a half to develop, makes small etchings in paper in a fabric-like sense, but it manipulates the reflectivity of the surfaces. They’re supposed to look like they’re in motion, even while stagnant.

Each one of the micro-etchings has a unique surface, and Edwards compared it to looking at the ocean from a beach. The reflections on the water look different depending on how the light reflects to where you’re standing.

“Through art,” Dunn said, “we really wanted to bring science to the greater public.”

Mind Illuminated opens next week, and will be on display through the remainder of the year. General entrance payment will cover the cost of visiting the gallery. Click here for more on the museum and its hours.

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