Students enjoy the CAVE Artscience Installation in Norm Asbjornson Hall on Friday, February 1, 2019. Photo by Avery Locklear.

Inside CAVE, sight and sound pulse together. With a rainbow of colors comes a spectrum of noise, and the two blend together to create a visual and auditory representation of the human brain.

CAVE represents a melding of art and science through the combining of ancient cave art with cutting-edge brain research. The gallery space within Norm Asbjornson Hall is sealed off from outer light, and only muffled murmurs from the students passing by outside manage to pierce within its walls. This is a key part of the exhibit, which relies upon the brain activity of the participant to create its striking experience.

The exhibit is composed of three neuro-caves, or structural forms that hang within the room, made of carbon fiber rods, 3D printed connectors and fiber-optic filaments. These neuro-caves, shaped like the human brain, are dotted with pods that emit light and sound. A stop-motion animation of cave paintings is projected onto the walls, and an ambient soundtrack of drips and scratches from Lewis and Clark caverns plays behind the exhibit.

CAVE was created by the NeuroCAVE Collaborative, a group of MSU students and professors who worked together on the project. Artist Sara Mast, musicians Jason Bolte and Linda Antas, architects Jessica Jellison and Bill Clinton, computer scientists Dave Millman and Brittany Fasy, photographer Zach Hoffman and professor emeritus of neuroscience John Miller all contributed to the design and fabrication of CAVE

The inspiration for the project came from a lecture that Mast attended on cave art and neuroscience given by Miller. Miller had discussed the similarities in cave art across the world and pondered whether they could be attributed to the common experience of sensory deprivation within caves. Mast decided to explore this phenomenon, and thus CAVE was born.

Prior to entering CAVE, the participant slips on a headset that gathers their neurofeedback. Within the CAVE, the headset transmits this feedback to a hidden computer, and CAVE produces colored lights and tones that reflect the brainwaves of the participant. For example, blue light represents a more relaxed brain pattern, while red represents focus and concentration. If groups of participants enter CAVE together and their brain waves begin to sync up, the lights will pulse more quickly and the sounds will grow louder.

Because CAVE is created by the brainwaves of each participant, everyone’s experiences will be as unique as their own mind. The responses to the exhibit range from a sense of deep calm to feelings of ecstatic joy. If you’d like to do some spelunking, CAVE will be open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Norm Asbjornson Hall, Room 149 until April 5.