Brains in a Dish Project

Film stills & artworks : © Charlie Murphy

Thanks to a £15,000 funding boost from Alzheimer’s Research UK’s flagship public outreach scheme, the Inspire Fund, a new science-art project and exhibition is planned for the Cooper Gallery in Barnsley, with interactive exhibits created through a series of workshops with the local community.

Currently, around one million people are estimated to be living with dementia in the UK, including 3,000 people in Barnsley alone. It’s a condition caused by several diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s, and sadly one in three people born today will develop dementia in their lifetime unless we bring about life-changing preventions and treatments.

Artist Charlie Murphy will collaborate with Prof Selina Wray, who grew up in Barnsley and now leads a group of dementia researchers at University College London. Prof Wray 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.

To develop the artworks for the exhibition, the pair will collaborate with Dr Eric Hill from Aston University and engineer Robin Bussell. They will run a series of participatory workshops with local community groups to develop artworks and interactive activities about dementia and brain health.  

The Barnsley Brains team will also run tried and tested events while the exhibition is open, showcasing their illuminated ‘Brainscan Headdress’ and popular ‘Neuronal Disco’ activities. These will be held for different local groups and schools, with the goal of creating dialogue and capturing changes in perceptions and understanding of dementia and dementia research.

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., she said:

"This project is an exciting next step and new context for me as an artist, making new work and building on a long-standing collaboration with Prof Selina Wray. I’ve been fascinated to learn about her cutting-edge research using stem cell technology to understand the diseases that cause dementia. Together, we hope to develop some innovative ways for people to interact with art and science, bringing it to life and making it relevant to them."

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. 

The R&D phase of the Brains in a Dish is supported by Barnsley Museums, University College London and the National Lottery through Arts Council England. 

Find out more about Brains in a Dish here 

Brains in a dish