How do I enter?

Got a question?

Judging the work


Entry form

This year's projects:

How Do I Enter

Create a piece of artwork to depict any aspect of one of the two topics.

You can use any medium, including textiles or modelling. If you make a fragile piece, please keep it small enough to be transported safely. Prizes will be awarded purely for artistic merit, but preference for the artist in residence placement will be given to the candidate who can best communicate the scientific aspects of the topics. This can lead to an 'artist in residence' placement.


Create a movie or game to illustrate any one of the topics.

The project should be visually appealing and educational. This can lead to an 'artist in residence' placement.

Got A Question

The organisers would be delighted to talk with you about your project.

Fill in the comments and questions section of the application form and we will get back to you or Email Yvonne Vallis

Report from an 'Artist In Residence'
"I have found my residency at the MRC a really awe-inspiring experience. It has been an honour to be allowed into the lab and have the various projects explained to me and I feel so lucky to have been involved in the initiative. The 'Imagining The Brain' competition is a rare and very valuable opportunity for young people to explore their interests in both art and science, which I think is fantastic. The project has encouraged me to explore areas of enquiry in my art that I would not have previously considered and due to this I have found the process hugely stimulating and interesting. It is not often that someone of my age can have access to what is going on at the very forefront of science, and I cannot thank everybody at the MRC enough for being so kind in showing me their work and encouraging me with my art work." Lucinda Dawkins, Cambridge

Report from Head of Art, Netherhall Sixth Form Centre
"We have taken part in Imagining the brain since 2006. The talks are so exciting and cutting edge science is presented in clear language in a way we can all understand. The aim of the topics is to ask questions that are important to both artists and scientists: Who are we? What happens when our brains don't work properly? How does life work? My students get a lot out of the project. They love the exhibition and it is really exciting after concentrating on the curriculum to have this artistic space where they can freely explore something completely different. Yvonne's enthusiasm for science and her ability to talk about very complex subjects in an easy and understandable way has opened a lot of doors for students and staff here.

Report from Head of Art, Impington Village College "Imagining the Brain is a brilliant initiative. Yvonne comes to the Sixth Form annually and gives talks structured around the requirement of the Theory of Knowledge component of the International Baccalaureate. The talks are gripping, for both staff and students and encourage all of us to think in new directions. The exhibitions have been very good for Impington students, allowing several pupils to really achieve their potential as serious artists. Understanding a bit more about the nuts and bolts of how their brains work engages even the students who had decided that science wasn't for them. As an art teacher, I am impressed with the way that that my pupils are inspired by the science topics.
I hope Imagining the Brain continues long into the future.

Judging The Work

The competition will be externally judged by distinguished artists and scientists.

Normally, three winners will be chosen and cash prizes will be awarded; £100 for first place, £75 for second place and £50 for third place. You will be asked to attend a prize giving ceremony at the MRC and we will retain the artwork of the winning entries. If your art is also part of the requirements for your GCSE, AS, A level or IB course, you will have it returned to your school or college for marking.

We will interview the winners and select people for the summer placements. These funded placements will be in a science laboratory, interacting with scientists and generating artwork to communicate science, and will last for 3-4 weeks each. The artwork could be used to explain ideas at international conferences, public understanding of science events, journal covers or book illustrations; there are many possibilities.

We will retain the copyright on any images you produce during your placement but you will always be credited for your work.


We will select students from among the winners of the art competition to spend between 3 and 4 weeks in the lab over the summer.

There are two types of placements:

Artist in residence
You will spend the first couple of days talking to people in the lab about the different projects they are working on. We will then meet to discuss ideas and see which projects are good to follow up on. The artwork is generally done at home. You will produce concept pieces & then we meet again to discuss how the ideas are evolving and to fine tune the science. You take the projects to completion.

Digital artist/animation specialist
We envisage this placement working in much the same way as the artist in residence placement, although there is more scope to do some of the graphics work at a desk in the lab, if you wish.

Here is a link for a digital art representation of what happens in cells (link).

This link shows very useful animations of what happens in cells and although we do not seek this level of quality we would love to see to see how students think animation/graphics can be used to communicate complex details in science. It is clear that in the future these types of representations will be increasingly used to communicate how we function at a molecular level.

Entry Form

Online entry form

Project Briefs 1:

Getting On Your Nerves
There are many different types of nerve cells, whose shape is beautifully adapted to perform different tasks.

There are many different types of information exchange systems in the body, all of which have to communicate and integrate with each other.

As complex beings, we integrate information from our environment and constantly adapt (according to what people are doing, smelling, eating, wearing, saying, behaving). The core integrator of these behaviours is the nervous system.

The nervous system can be divided up into several parts:

  • Central nerves connect areas within the brain and spinal cord
  • Peripheral nerves connect the spinal cord with your limbs
  • Autonomic nerves connect the brain and spinal cord with your organs (heart, stomach, intestines, blood vessels, etc.)

The nervous system joins up all that we do. It receives inputs from not only from what we consciously perceive but from our general wellbeing, our metabolic status, our immune system, our sleep patterns etc. The brain outputs are not only motor, but cognitive, hormonal, etc and our brain constantly adapts to the information it receives.

Fundamentally, neurons receive information through dendrites and output information through axons.

Some neurons have large numbers of dendrites and thus inputs, some have a single dendrite and therefore a single input. Some neurons have multiple outputs and others have one. Much of the integration of information occurs in the brain, where there are many specialized types of neurons, some of which are shown below.

Peripheral neurons send signals over a long distance to and from specific areas. These neurons are generally myelinated, which gives them insulation that allows the electric signals to be propagated over long distances with more efficiency. There is also a specialised nervous system that controls the motility and secretory functions of the intestine and crosstalk between this and the central and peripheral nervous system is now the subject of intense research interest in understanding feeding behaviours. There is considerable crosstalk between the immune system and the nervous system; for example chemicals secreted by immune cells help to shape the nervous system and chemicals released by neurons can affect immune system cells.

There are links between where neurons extend and where blood vessels grow, crosstalk that occurs during the development of an animal to make sure that everything is wired up properly and communication between the different specialized areas of the organism that ensures good function. This complex marvel is seen in every one of us, in a bird in flight, in a hibernating mammal. When it goes wrong, the consequences are devastating.

We look forward to getting on your nerves.

What artists should consider:

  • ITB is a science/art initiative and the artists response should emphasize
  • How structure relates to function in examples of different types of neurons.
  • How communication and crosstalk is essential to coordinate complex systems behaviours.

You can also download the full presentation (.pptx) on Getting on Your Nerves.

We are happy to accept work in any format, either fine art, 3D, photography, digital art or a game.

For more information on this or any of the topics, please contact: Yvonne Vallis at or phone 07904 556135

Project Briefs 2:

Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs)
ASCs are the term given to a wide spectrum of neurodevelopmental conditions, characterized by impairments in three areas:

  • Communication
  • Social skills
  • Imagination.

These impairments can range from severe conditions where the person concerned is unable to live independently, to mild conditions that may require very specialized testing to diagnose. ASCs are now thought to affect 1% of the population, so most of us will know at least one person who is affected. Such people face a range of challenges that affect all aspects of everyday life.

ASCs are frequently associated with learning difficulties, epilepsy and savant skills – we have all heard of some people with amazing memories or maths skills who are also affected by ASCs.

ASCs seem to be far more common now than they once were; some of this is due to changes in diagnostic procedures, but some researchers believe that ASCs have genuinely increased in prevalence.

Significantly more males than females are affected. There is known to be a strong genetic component, but ASCs are not directly inherited. The genes involved seem to be concerned with directing how connections are formed between the different cells of the brain. Environmental factors may also play a role in ASCs, although it is very difficult to identify triggers with great certainty.
There are and have been many theories about ASCs. They range from "impersonal parenting", a theory now totally discredited, to the idea that ASCs represent an "extreme male brain" and confer an evolutionary advantage.

In this project, we will look in detail into this fascinating condition. We will ask whether ASCs are really increasing in the population and, if so, what could cause this. We will ask why ASCs affect more males than females. We will ask what interventions can be offered to people with ASCs. We will endeavor to understand a very different way of thinking.

What artists should consider:

  • What are the differences in ways of thinking?
  • What is meant by a spectrum condition and how does this affect diagnosis.
  • What are the factors influencing ASCs?

You can also download the full presentation (.pptx) on Autism Spectrum Conditions.

We are happy to accept work in any format, either fine art, 3D, photography, digital art or a game.

For more information on this or any of the topics, please contact: Yvonne Vallis at or phone 07904 556135