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8 Mind-Blowing Images Of The Brain At Work

The human brain is mind-blowingly complex. Even in an age when we can track every single step we take with a wristband and we seriously consider sending colonists to Mars, there’s plenty that we haven’t nailed down about what’s going on in our own heads. Since 2010, the Human Connectome Project, funded by $40 million dollars from the National Institutes of Health, has been working toward a high-resolution map of the brain’s connections. By examining the brains of 1,200 volunteers who will spend 10 hours in the lab undergoing tests and scans, the hope is to create a database of the structure and activity of a healthy brain, one that could be cross-referenced with data on psychological, cognitive, and genetic traits. These incredible images show the work the Human Connectome Project has done so far.

Image: Courtesy of the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Consortium of the Human Connectome Project

For context, our current understanding of the brain is kind of like an 18th-century map, as one researcher told the New York Times this week. Some things are mislabeled, or drawn a little wonky. The project’s goal would be to make something with a Google Maps-style resolution–interactive and many-layered, allowing scientists to not just see where certain brain function occurs, but how the anatomical structures underlying those functions relate. Of course, that’s an endeavor years in the making.

To start, scientists used diffusion imaging, which measures the way water diffuses along nerve fibers in the brain, to create these colorful images of the structural connections that make up the brain. Click through our slide show for more.SF