Amid a network of blood vessels and star-shaped support cells, neurons in the brain signal each other. The mists of color show the flow of important molecules, such as glucose, oxygen and nitric oxide.
This image is a snapshot from a 52-second simulation created by Kim Hager, an animation artist working with the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of California, Los Angeles. The animation, which portrays how chemicals change and move among cells in the brain, took about 300 hours to create. To put it all together, Hager worked closely with Neal Prakash, a neurobiologist in the same lab. Prakash initially asked for a drawing to illustrate a research paper, but the director of the lab suggested producing an animation instead.
Hager, who studied photography, video and graphic design in college and later earned a graduate degree in media arts, does not draw movies frame-by-frame. Instead, she builds "virtual sculptures" filled with color, light, texture and motion and then guides the viewer's eye through the scenes.
The lab features this animation, along with dozens of others, on its Web site and also plays it in a state-of-the-art theater during presentations for scientists, students and other visitors.
Hager says her role is to make the research more accessible to different audiences. "Seeing an animation," she explains, "makes it easier to comprehend what a researcher is saying."