What do you get when you mix together artists, scientists and a bunch of knitters? You get a giant walk-in model of a brain! A few years ago, Australian artist Pat Pillai had an idea to knit the tiny parts that make up the brain, called the brain cells or neurons. Last year, the project brought together artists, scientists and people of all ages to knit neurons and mail them in so they could be joined together in the giant brain. Along the way, everyone learned about the brain and brain health. As an added bonus, they exercised their own brains while they were knitting.
The project is cleverly named Neural Knitworks after the scientific term neural networks, the connections between the billions of neurons we have in our brain, spinal cord and in the rest of our body. Using these connections, nerves send signals all over the body so that our brain knows when we are touching something and when to tell our muscles to move so we can walk.
For 2015 National Science Week in Australia, the Neural Knitworks team wants to create a virtual neural network by linking the displays online. So this year you won’t have to mail your handmade neurons away. Groups that participate will photograph their creations and post them in the Neural Knitworks Facebook community . Get more instructions on participating here . Scientists have helped to make sure the knitting patterns are like real neurons. No knitting experience is needed and there are even patterns that do not require any knitting at all.
Brains are not the only science-related things being crafted these days. A company called ‘aKNITomy’ knits anatomy models, like a frog dissection. In the Crochet Reef Project, participants craft coral, and along the way learn about coral reefs and the geometry of how they grow. Many science-related knitting and crochet patterns can be found online. But a creative science project does not just have to involve yarn—you can use all kinds of materials. All it takes is imagination!