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Bringing brain imaging to life through a public engagement installation

The Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging (also know as the Functional Imaging Laboratory, FIL) is based at University College London. They investigate how the brain generates behaviour, thoughts and feelings, and how this knowledge can be applied to help patients with neurological and psychiatric diseases.


The brief

The centre has been working at the cutting edge of neuroimaging for over 20 years, developing methods, models and software used throughout the world. Although it is well known and respected within academic circles, in the past it has not focused much energy on engaging the wider public in its research. In line with the Wellcome Trust’s mission to help great ideas in health to thrive, the centre is now placing more emphasis on this aspect of its work.

fil_interior_liftwallcolumnsWe were commissioned to support the centre in translating the complex scientific ideas that they are working on in an engaging way, to aid understanding and encourage further exploration for people new to the subject area. These ideas were to be communicated through a bold public engagement installation in their main reception area and in a brand new website (to be launched later this year).


Our approach

“The Bureau have been such a pleasure to work with. They have managed to mastermind the simplification and illustration of diverse scientific information for our website and building. Their designs are unique, powerful, informative and attractive and have been admired by all.”
Cathy Price, Centre Director

Our initial challenge was to develop a thematic structure that was flexible enough to describe the scope and scale of research carried out at the centre. We worked with staff members to identify and evolve a set of research ‘functions’ (such as ‘Action’, ‘Emotion’ and ‘Language’) and, within each of these, a group of themes (such as ‘Beliefs’, ‘Speech comprehension’ and ‘Imagination’). To bring the structure to life, we developed a distinctive image and iconography style that is used throughout the installation and the website.

The visual language was developed further to illustrate and ease understanding of the scientific instruments that are the basis of cutting edge techniques such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Magnetoencephalography (MEG).

Finally, the wider relevance of the centre’s work was demonstrated through illustration of its potential clinical impacts. This includes understanding disease mechanisms, disease classification, diagnosis, prognosis and, ultimately, treatment and interventions.

fil_interior_liftwall_focus2Working in collaboration with Curious Space, the centre installation was realised on a short timeline, combining hand-painting, laser-cut vinyl, floor-to-ceiling wall prints and digitally printed, cnc-cut plywood blocks. The feedback from visitors has been overwhelmingly positive and the staff have observed a substantial increase in their engagement with the subject matter.