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Museum of Science and Industry

About Brains: The Mind as Matter

This exhibition closed on 4 January 2014.

Brains followed our quest to manipulate and decipher the most unique and mysterious of human organs. The exhibition featured over 160 artefacts including real brains, artworks, manuscripts, videos and photographs.

Amongst the artefacts on display were objects and artworks which show how Manchester has sustained its place at the forefront of brain research and treatment.


Measuring and Classifying

Scientists have long explored the theory that our mental capacities - like speech, vision and morality - reside in specific areas of the brain.

Headspanner Phrenological head (Victoire) Skull of a prostitute Wax brain in human skull Phrenological heads

Brains demonstrated the ways in which scientists have attempted to map a person's character using the contours of their cranium (phrenology), and evidenced the belief that the relative size of skulls and brains was an indicator of intelligence.


Modelling and Mapping

Because the brain is so difficult to preserve, scientists and medical artists work together to achieve a better understanding of the brain using visual representations.

Brainbow mouse The Anatomy of the Brain Diagram of the soul Diagram of the soul

Brains brought together images and models of the brain - vital teaching aids even today, along with the scanning and microscope technologies which have deepened scientists' understanding of the brain's structure.


Cutting and Treating

Since prehistoric times, people have attempted to intervene beneath the skull to relieve ailments or to release evil spirits from the head.

Neolithic skull Pituitary adenoma Trephination set From Within From Within

Brains demonstrated that some of the historical instruments and techniques for accessing the brain are fundamentally similar to modern day science. What distinguishes today's neurosurgery is the scanning imagery used to guide the surgeon and minimise damage.


Giving and Taking

Historically, biologists sought the brains of humans and other species for comparative study, and often without consent.

Post-mortem pathology Self-portrait with Saw William Burke's brain

Brains explored this practise in the context of an ageing society, and showed how scientists are encouraging people to pledge their brains for research in the hope of finding cures for neurodegenerative diseases.

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