This is Hermina Nedelescu, my scientist partner. Hermina is researching the role of the cerebellum in coordinating perfect, fluid movement. We meet in her lab at Salk. It feels like home because I spent many years in a virology research lab at UCSD long ago and now I find, more than ever, I miss the excitement, collaboration and satisfaction of scientific research whose goal is to improve the human condition.
When Hermina shows me this photograph I am taken by its exquisite detail and beautiful structure. It's a detail of the cerebellum, which lies atop the brain stem, showing strings of intricate neurons and pearl-like Purkinje cells arranged like jewels around the cerebellar lobes. I think this should be a focal point in my design.
I sketch an idea for the dress; the skirt should convey the beautifully convoluted lobes of the cerebellum and the cerebellar image will be printed directly onto the fabric of the bodice.
The finished sketch emerges, complete with lights, showing the printed bodice and convoluted cerebral folds. A good starting point.
We choose the team name "Light Dance" because the cerebellum coordinates the graceful movements of a dancer, and because I hope with the responsive lights in the dress to depict its neuronal activity as our "dancer" moves .
I begin work on the bodice by printing the image of the cerebellar detail onto paper...
...to size it for digital fabric printing. I imagine it with beading and embroidery that breathes life into the cells and neurons on my living model.
The fabric must be sheer enough for the lights to shine through it. Chiffon with a translucent backing of crinoline and silk organza should work.
Meanwhile, a pattern for the lobular folds of the skirt begins to take shape and a hunt is on for the perfect fabric.
With all the materials and a pattern in hand, the garment is beginning to take shape. The bodice is beaded and embroidered to lend the image an illusion of dimensionality. It's a multi-layered affair with crinoline fused to the sheer printed fabric, a layer of polyester batting to diffuse the embedded lights, and a lining of sheer silk organza so I can see through it to set the electronics in place.
I don't want to overpower it with embellishment. Happily, the exquisite detail of the image shows up well.
My electronics station looks pretty tidy...for now
More than 100ft of wire will support 70 LEDs and 6 high-intensity LED bulbs embedded throughout the garment. They'll be wired and programmed on 2 separate channels to syncopate the lights.
To protect the high-intensity LED bulb tips from the netting and tulle inside the skirt, I construct protective cones from tiny plastic funnels.
Each of the 70 LEDs and every soldered wire joint is covered with a small piece of shrink tube to protect it and prevent a short.
There are a lot of electronics in there, but eventually the bulbs are tacked onto netting in the tops of the lobes and strings of LEDs are covered in batting and sewn along the inner edge down the lobes. 20 LEDs are channeled inside the bodice to light up the printed image.
With the lights lowered in expectation, all eyes follow Nicole as she glides down the runway.
The "cerebellar" case lights up as her movements send signals down the wire "spinal cord" to brighten the gown.
Nicole's smile lights up the runway too.
The lighted gown flows around her as she walks, reflecting the architecture and function of the cerebellum in coordinating perfect, fluid movement. The Light Dance gown is a success!
And what a spectacular evening this has been for the Light Dance Team!