Brains in a Dish

Charlie Murphy, In Search of Self (detail), 2019, UV reactive coloured borosilicate glass, robotic UV lights, 45cm x 35cm Image: Charlie Murphy

The Brains in a Dish exhibition presented a large scale kinetic installations with glass, light and body recognition software. This is a culmination of over seven years research, engagement and collaboration by Charlie, with Prof Selina Wray’s dementia research team at University College London and electronics engineer Robin Bussell.


Charlie Murphy uses performance, glass, light, photographic and digital tools to investigate and visualise hidden dimensions of human anatomy and connection . Her installations, exhibitions, performances and public engagement activities are widely presented across many arts and science contexts in the UK and internationally. 

For further information about the artist and the project visit:

Professor Selina Wray is Alzheimer's Research UK Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology. She uses cutting-edge techniques with stem cells to unravel the causes of dementia, a condition for which there is currently no cure. 

For further information about Professor Selina Wray visit: 

This short film, Brains In A Dish - Growing The Stuff Of Thought offers a glimpse into the development of Brains in a Dish, an innovative interdisciplinary project inspired by Professor Selina Wray’s pioneering dementia research at UCL’s Institute of Neurology. 

Influenced by delicate and laborious cell culturing processes and advanced imaging techniques, Charlie reshapes and animates an array of lab tools and scientific glassware into elaborate colonies and forests of cell forms and connection at dramatic, expanded , human scales. 

Observing the transformation of her skin cells into functioning brain cells in the lab, artist Charlie is developing immersive installations and participatory events which investigate some the deeply unsettling human, philosophical and ethical questions that accompany the bioengineering and the propagation of human cells outside of the body.

Find out more about Brains in a Dish here:

All images © Charlie Murphy, 2022

Brains in a Dish is financially supported by Barnsley Museums & Heritage trust, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Alzheimer Research UK’s Inspire Fund and the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

An array of delicate, colourful glass sculptures, playful and immersive digital tools including robotic lasers and image projections have been developed which aim to illuminate and animate our understandings of the brain and raise awareness about the powerful processes and technologies used in dementia research    

To develop new digital content for the exhibition, Charlie and Robin are also collaborating with Dr Eric Hill at Aston University and further scientists from UCL’s Dementia Research Centre.  

Prof Wray grew up on St. George’s Road, Barnsley and now leads a group of dementia researchers at University College London. She investigates the underlying causes of dementia and is particularly interested in how a protein that builds up in the brain causes damage in Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia.

Prof Wray said: “It has been really exciting to collaborate with Charlie and Robin on this project and explore new and unique ways to increase awareness of dementia and communicate our research.

“I really like the glass sculptures that Charlie has developed in response to our cells and the images she’s seen. They’re very beautiful but on a deeper level they really capture the fragility and the delicateness of the cells that we’re growing, recognising just how fragile they are in our brain.

“This exhibition has a particular resonance for me – it’s a privilege to bring the work to my hometown where everything started for me, and I’m excited for the local communities to have the chance to interact with it.”

Charlie Murphy said: “I'm delighted to be creating new artworks and immersive experiences inspired by Selina’s pioneering dementia research and the powerful imagery and technologies used to investigate what’s happening inside the cells when someone develops a dementia. Robin and I have developed exciting new ways to illuminate and animate our insights into this important area of research which we hope will spark interest and connections across a wide range of communities and age groups.”

Throughout the duration of the exhibition, the Brains team are offering free creative activities for gallery audiences, local schools, colleges and community groups for people living with dementias. Participants will explore how the ‘Brainscan Headdress’, ‘Neuronal Discos’, glass blowing, laser programming and cell decorating workshops helps them learn about the brain and gain a deeper understanding of dementia and dementia research.

Brains in a Dish was initially conceived and developed as a novel art-science collaborative experiment during Charlie and Selina’s residency as part of Created Out of Mind, a research project at the Wellcome Collection (London, 2016-18) led by Prof Sebastian Crutch.