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Giant interactive brain: science outreach project and Burning Man mutant vehicle
Irene Duke
Email Verified
699 Facebook Friends
Oakland, California
United States
14 Team Members

Breaking News!

Dr. Brainlove is coming to the Bay Area Science Festival! The Bay Area Science Festival is a 10-day (10/23-11/1/14) celebration of science and hosts diverse programs at various spots in the bay area. Dr. Brainlove has been invited to come and share some of the neuroscience that went into her creation. The venue will likely be one of: Cal Academy of Sciences Halloween night, AT&T park Discovery Days, or the Nerd Nite hosted science-themed block party in SoMA of San Francisco.  Dr. Brainlove cannot wait to see you in the Bay Area!

Stretch Goal Time!

Thank you to all our supporters! The project is fully funded with two stretch goals remaining! An additional $5,000 will give Dr. Brainlove a beautiful spinal column walkway and a roomy fabric second floor that doubles as a screen for anatomically accurate video projection of vasculature and white matter (imagine enjoying the light show suspended inside Dr. Brainlove!). Please help make our stretch goals a reality!

Stretch goal A) Wood crafted vertebral column (additional $2,500) 

Stretch goal B) Fabric second floor with projection showing blood vessels and white matter tracts (additional $2,500)

We want to create a second floor inside the brain by running strong fabric across it. This will make a nice surface to rest on if you get tired from climbing the giant jungle gym. The fabric floor is going to be white, and we will project beautiful, scientifically accurate, anatomical structures on its bottom. As a taste here is an MR angiogram -- that is, an image of blood vessels -- from the same brain we used as a model for Dr. Brainlove.

Bottom view of the blood vessel patterns

The Brain

Dr. Brainlove will be a climbable interactive brain mounted on a modified biofuel-powered school bus. Dr. Brainlove will make its debut at Burning Man and will continue her life as a traveling neuroscience exhibit afterwards. Brains are vehicles for our thoughts, emotions, memories, and experiences, making Dr. Brainlove a quintessential vehicle for any mind-blowing adventure!

CG visualization of Dr. Brainlove's internal structure. 

Climb aboard, and tickle your neurons from atop a giant brain! Dr. Brainlove will stimulate all of your senses, including:

  • Somatosensory and motor systems: Colossal (27' x 19' x 15') climbable mesh in the form of a brain, based on a real brain scan! We are building Dr. Brainlove using technology from Digital Permaculture, which can convert any surface into a structurally stable geodesic space frame. The structure will contain cozy lounging spaces inside.
  • Auditory system: Programmable lights will respond to the sound system and to output from EEG sensors. You can visualize your brain waves on a brain 50 times the size of your own! Plus, the dance floor, DJ booth and sound system will keep you going all day and all night long.
  • Visual system: The brain will be filled with hundreds of LEDs, and half a kilometer of fiberoptic cable. As Dr. Brainlove's moveable eyes light the way, they will act as sensors, driving glowing spikes and waves of cortical activity through the structure.

We are fascinated by brains!

Beyond Burning Man

Dr. Brainlove's adventures will begin on the playa but will not end there! Her scientifically inspired structure and a lighting system that mimics brain activity make her a great educator. Dr. Brainlove hopes to travel to science fairs and museums, including the Bay Area Science Festival, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Exploratorium, teaching kids and adults about the workings of their own brains.

Follow our progress as we build! Get your brain updates at The Adventures of Dr. Brainlove.

Who are The Phage?

Frontage of The Phage camp, at Burning Man 2010

The Phage is a diverse consortium of 100+ scientists, engineers, and artists. Our mission is to infect the playa with science. For the past several years we have been located on the Esplanade. Some of the science outreach activities we have run include:

  • On-playa nightly seminar series. Past topics include subterranean communication, the geology of Black Rock Desert, research on love and emotion, defining reality through information, the neuroscience of meditation, and much more.
  • Micro-zoo. We brought an entire zoo of micro-organisms, and the microscopes to watch them!  video here

  • Ask a scientist.

  • Suturing workshop. Learn and practice making medical sutures.

  • Fun with gallium, Fresnel lenses, and liquid nitrogen. 

  • "Experience one Joule." We don't want to ruin the surprise. Come experience it yourself.

Brains behind Dr. Brainlove

Many of us are participating in the planning and creation of Dr. Brainlove. Here are just a few of the people who are making sure Dr. Brainlove will be spectacular:

  • Nicholas Christie, an Oxford educated engineer, is leading the structural engineering. As a kid, he built a car from scratch. Now he specializes in the mechanization of large structures. One of his recent projects is the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, the High Roller, which just opened in Las Vegas.
  • Sean Stevens is co-leading the design of the electronics and lighting. He seeks to bring more magic and creativity into the world through interactive art, immersive event deco, and creativity education. He has led several large scale lighting installations for Burning Man before, so he is familiar with the unique conditions on the playa.
  • Ashley Newton is the other co-lead of the lighting for Dr. Brainlove. She is a passionate tech-artist and creativity educator, driving to inspire and educate as many people as she can with the joy of creating using technology. 
  • Natalia Bilenko is a neuroscience PhD student at UC Berkeley. She scans brains and predicts how they will respond to new information. Dr. Brainlove's structure is based on a scan of her brain. With Wendy de Heer, Natalia will use scientific models to control the lights, empowering Dr. Brainlove to react to the visual and auditory world around her.
  • Asako Miyakawa is a UC Berkeley educated neuroscientist orchestrating all the moving parts of the project. She is passionate about mixing art, science, and media beyond known boundaries and bringing a radically new concept art car to the playa this year.
  • Irene Duke is a software engineer, specializing in Android apps. Her claim to fame is an app called Alarm Clock Xtreme. She worked on Soma with the Flaming Lotus Girls for Burning Man 2009, and is excited to help make Dr. Brainlove happen for The Phage this year.
  • Jason Porath is a computer graphics animator. He most recently worked on How to Train Your Dragon 2. He has created both concept art and 3D computer graphics models of Dr. Brainlove's structure. 
  • Dan Novy, a.k.a NovySan, is a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab where he builds immersive displays, plans micro-raves, and studies non-invasive neurostimulation techniques. Before attending MIT he was a 16 year veteran of the Hollywood Visual Effects Industry. A jack of all trades, he enjoys cutting metal things into smaller pieces with a Sawzall.
  • Tom Bishop has a passion for film-making and photography, and produced the promotional video for Dr. Brainlove, which he is hoping to evolve into a more substantial documentary. Aside from this, he has a PhD in electronic engineering, specializing in image processing, and works designing computer vision algorithms for exciting new kinds of cameras.
  • Jascha Sohl-Dickstein is a computational neuroscience postdoc at Stanford.  He loves projects that mix engineering and art, and has worked on previous Burning Man art projects including SyzygrydPyrocardium, and Carbon Garden.
  • Rachel Kalmar is a data scientist at Misfit Wearables, where she wrangles noisy data and investigates how to make wearable and sensor data useful and interactive. A Stanford neuroscience PhD, she's spent over a decade using data to explain, predict and influence behavior. Combining her love of data, the brain, and novel visualizations, Rachel is working on turning Dr. Brainlove into an interactive data platform.

  • And too many others to list

The Phage art car team at Burning Man 2013

What happened to Strangelove?

If you interacted with our previous art car, Strangelove, then you know that she was beautiful and beloved. Unfortunately, the base vehicle for Strangelove experienced catastrophic mechanical failure last year, and she had to be retired.

As you can see, we have the chops to build a kick-ass art car! Dr. Brainlove will be approximately twice the size of Strangelove, more mechanically and structurally sound, and just as gorgeous.

Strangelove in her natural habitat.

Where will the money go?

The bus has been generously donated, and we have already raised $4,500 from our camp members to start the work. We need to raise $26,000 more to get Dr. Brainlove to the playa year, and we will add some stretch goals as we approach the initial goal.

1. Workshop Rental: We are building Dr. Brainlove at an innovative DYI space called NIMBY in Oakland, CA. You may know it from Precompression 2014! The community here is a great resource. We are planning to stay at NIMBY after the burn and keep improving Dr. Brainlove.

2. Steel: The brain mesh is made from 691 galvanized steel tubes weighing 2,500 pounds. We will also need to build outriggers to keep the bus stable as people climb on the brain.

Digital Permaculture finalizing the tubes that will form Dr. Brainlove.

3. Tools: We have already sliced the top off the bus, and we need to make additional modifications to mount the brain to the chassis. Part of the raised funds will used for buying or renting tools. 

4. Lights: We will be outfitting Dr. Brainlove with hundreds of LEDs and over 500 meters of fiber optic cables. We will also connect biometric sensors to her lighting system. Your brain waves and heart rate will surge through Dr. Brainlove!

5. Music: We will be upgrading Strangelove’s sound system as well as building a DJ booth and dance floor.

6. Transportation: We will need insurance, registration, and fuel to transport Dr. Brainlove to Black Rock City and back.

The top of the school bus being removed.

Risks & Challenges

Building a gigantic climbable brain comes with some risks, but we have a great team, a solid plan, and a supportive community to help us work through the kinks! Here are a few of the challenges we are facing:

  • The brain mesh needs to safely support >50 people climbing all over it. The brain structure is being manufactured by Digital Permaculture, who have significant experience with building stable geodesic meshes. The mesh consists of two layers of tetrahedrons, making it much stronger than traditional geodesic domes used at Burning Man.
  • Dr. Brainlove needs to be radically illuminated to drive at night. We will be using hundreds of LEDs and over 500 meters of fiber optics to make sure the car is visible at night. The electronics and fiber optics will be encased in clear protective housing to ensure they can survive the elements and kicks from people climbing on the structure.
  • Dr. Brainlove needs to pass DMV inspection at BRC. As is true for all mutant vehicles, there is a small possibility Burning Man's DMV does not grant us a license to drive on the playa. Our project is pre-approved, and we are following all regulations, so we expect the process to go smoothly. If our license is not granted, Dr. Brainlove will be moored at the front lawn of The Phage camp as an art installation. Even while stationary, she will serve as an amazing dancespace, interactive climbing structure, and a science education platform!


Our perks include stickers, bandanas, and hoodies with the Dr. Brainlove logo. For the hoodie, the Dr. Brainlove logo will be printed on the back, and the Phage logo on the front.

Nicholas modeling the hoodie with Dr. Brainlove logo on the back (digital mockup)

Liana modeling the hoodie with Phage logo on the front (digital mockup)

We need your support!

We want to create something truly beautiful that will engage people’s curiosity as they interact with it. We believe that Dr. Brainlove will be a museum-worthy piece that will live on and inspire people for decades. 

Please help us spread the word about this campaign! With your generous support, we are confident that we can create something truly unique and awe-inspiring. Hope to see you on the playa and beyond!

The Phage at Burning Man 2009

Find This Campaign On
raised by 217 people in 28 days
111% funded
No time left
$26,000 USD goal
Flexible Funding This campaign has ended and will receive all funds raised.
Campaign Closed
This campaign ended on July 23, 2014
In partnership with
Select a Perk
  • $5USD
    Brain Aficionado

    Every dollar counts! We will send a thank you email and keep you updated on our progress.

    9 claimed
  • $25USD
    Stick it to me!

    Get a sticker with the Dr. Brainlove logo to put on your laptop, your water bottle, or wherever your stickers go. Please add $5 for international shipping.

    61 claimed
    Estimated delivery: August 2014
  • $50USD
    Brain Bandana

    Get a bandana with the Dr. Brainlove logo to sport on the playa. Your friends will be jealous. Please add $10 for international shipping.

    40 claimed
    Estimated delivery: August 2014
  • $100USD
    Cerebral Wisdom

    Contribute a piece of wisdom that will be etched onto one of the beams of Dr. Brainlove. Your wisdom will live on forever in our car and inspire burners for years to come.

    16 claimed
    Estimated delivery: August 2014
  • $500USD
    Neural Trigger

    Get a 3D printed necklace with a button that remotely controls Dr. Brainlove's LEDs. Impress your friends by sending Dr. Brainlove into seizure mode. Please add $30 for international shipping.

    11 out of 15 claimed
    Estimated delivery: August 2014
  • $1,000USD
    Captain of the Cerebellum

    You get to be Captain of the art car for 4 hours and decide where it goes. You'll also get to schmooze with the engineers, scientists, and artists responsible for bringing it to life. You must be at Burning Man to claim this perk.

    1 out of 2 claimed
    Estimated delivery: August 2014

    Our Hero

    You are our hero! Get a 3D printed coffee table book size model of the brain on Dr. Brainlove. Use it as a conversation starter and show it off to all your friends. Please add $50 for international shipping.

    2 out of 2 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2014
  • $2,000USD
    Cerebral Conductor

    Make a personal contribution to Dr. Brainlove's brain activity! Collaborate with the Phage neuroscientists and lighting experts to create your own pattern of brain activation that will become a part of Dr. Brainlove's light displays. It could be a brain response to your favorite image or quote, or an abstract design - you decide! No previous light design experience or neuroscience knowledge necessary.

    0 out of 2 claimed
    Estimated delivery: August 2014
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