Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Oh, Rats!

The title of this blog post is also the title of a recent podcast episode from Big Picture Science. I can highly recommend the episode, which looks at the reasons and ways in which we use laboratory rats to tell us more about ourselves.

The whole Kingdom of the Blind project began with rats, because Dr Adam Hamlin was feeding them beer (apparently they prefer Coopers to VB) and other drugs in his experiments on addiction and desire. When he showed me the beautiful fluorescent images he was making of the reactions in their brains, I was inspired to create embroidery artworks that both replicate the microsope images and explore the meaning of the research.

Dr Hamlin moved on to investigating Alzheimer's disease in mice, and currently he is using mice to learn more about how rye grass toxins affect livestock. I'm still working on embroideries that are based on his research and that of his colleagues.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Toxic Stress

Art and About Sydney is on from now until October 21st, and the Culture at Work contribution is well worth checking out. As well as my own work being on display, Fiona Davies has an installation of her Blood and Silk works and Sherryl Ryan's work on cancer cells covers the walls of a small studio. Visit Scott Street, Pyrmont, to see all three exhibitions.
As well as many of my old works, I've put two new ones on display and will be working to show at least two more during the month of Art and About. One new work is  Communications, based on the work of Associate Professor Frederic Meunier at the Queensland Brain Institute. Toxic Stress, left, is based on the microscope slides I saw in the lab at Charles Sturt University, with Dr Adam Hamlin.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In the lab at CSU

In my previous post, I mentioned the lab work that Dr Adam Hamlin was doing on the day I visited him at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. The pictures here are some I took on that day. Dr Hamlin was preparing microscope slides of mouse brain slices, from four mice that had been exposed to rye grass toxins (this isn't part of his Alzheimer's research, it's a new experiment). He showed me the brains stained to mark active neurons, showing stress caused by the reaction to the toxin. Before the slides were treated, there was a lot of "noise" visible under the microscope: squiggly lines of cell walls and other fatty deposits.
The cleaning process involved dipping the slides into a series of baths of ethanol, working up to 100% pure ethanol. The second task was dipping the slides in xylene, a strong solvent that dissolved all the fat and left only the stained neuronsbehind.
This part of the process was fascinating to watch; as the slides went into the liquid, you could actually see the fat dissolving and swirling around. I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with the f-stops and focus on my camera to get a good shot of this (fortunately Adam was doing the slides in batches, so I could have a couple of runs of trial and error). I was quite pleased to finally capture the swirling liquid (see the final two images in the series at right).
After I came home, I processed the best image using Photoshop to exaggerate the colours and lines as the basis for a new embroidery work. You can see the image below, and I'll be working on it at Accelerator Gallery during the exhibition that's part of Art and About over the next few weeks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Art and about

Things are really gearing up for the Culture at Work contribution to the City of Sydney's Art and About month, which launches on Friday. Accelerator Gallery will be open from 11 am to 5 pm every day, with displays visibile from the street and rear courtyard in the evenings. Please come and check out work by Fiona Davies, Sherryl Ryan and me.

Getting ready for this exhibition, I took the opportunity to visit Dr Adam Hamlin in his new lab at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. It's a pretty surprising university campus, out in the middle of the state, with kangaroos hopping across roads and pathways. Dr Hamlin's lab is currently located in the Dentistry building, an award-winning architectural design that looks like nothing less than a shearing shed in a bush paddock.
Of course, as soon as you step inside you're suddenly in a hi-tech world, with spacious teaching and research labs and lots of natural light flooding through glass windows. Adam's lab is at the end of a bridge that crosses over the lower level in a glass atrium, and we had to take all the usual precautions: gowning up, washing hands and wearing safe boots and glasses. On the day I visited, Adam was preparing microscope slides of thinly sliced mouse brains using 100% ethanol and something called xylene that is highly flammable and corrosive.
The view outside, however, is amazing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dr Adam Hamlin's 15 minutes of fame

I spent a couple of days last week with Dr Adam Hamlin at his new home of Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, where he is continuing the Alzheimer's research he began at the Queensland Brain Institute, as well as looking into new fields of research for the future. (I'll post pictures and more information over the next few days.) On Friday, Dr Hamlin was interviewed for a story on the local television news about his Alzheimer's research breakthrough. Click on the picture to watch the video on the Prime 7 website.