The brain is an exceedingly complex machine that harbors about 100 trillion neural connections. So it comes as no surprise that neuroscientists make great efforts to reduce or represent that complexity in their research with innovative imaging techniques.

For all the time and creativity poured into publication-worthy imagery, however, most of it never leaves the pages of academic journals. Daniel Margulies of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and other neuroscientists thought it was time for a change.

"We wanted to create a forum where neuroscientists could be credited for their innovations and engage in dialogue about the aesthetic possibilities of our fields," Margulies says. Along with several colleagues from The Neuro Bureau—an "open neuroscience" forum on the Web—he helped found the inaugural Brain-Art Competition this year.

The event's aims were not simply focused on bragging rights and artistic merit. The organizers wanted to bring new imaging techniques and ideas to the fore and help colleagues think about brain research in new ways. "This whole thing started out as a joke in a bar. We knew of other neuroimaging data competitions in our respective fields, and we wondered, 'What could we do that would bring everyone to the table, even artists?'" Margulies says.

The competition accepted 55 entries sprinkled across four categories: 3-D brain renderings, representations of the human "connectome" (the brain's connections), abstract illustrations and a humor category. Twenty judges then picked the best entry in each group.

The Neuro Bureau announced their winners on June 28 at an event at the National Art Museum of Québec, and are exhibited in this slide show. Also included are some favorites of organizers and people who saw the artwork displayed at the 2011 Organization for Human Brain Mapping conference in Québec City held June 26–30.

» View the Brain Art Slide Show