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>  News Releases >   2005 >   November

Dartmouth's fMRI lab hits the big screen in Wired to Win

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 11/30/05 • Contact Genevieve Haas (603) 646-3661

When film director F. Bayley Silleck wanted to know what happens to the brain of a cyclist competing in the punishing Tour de France, he turned to Dartmouth's Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Data Center for a virtual look inside the heads of champion cyclists. John Van Horn, Research Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and one of the researchers who oversees the fMRI Data Center, and senior Adam Riggall collaborated over the last six months to create animated brain scans that simulate the neural activity of champion cyclists. Their work will appear in Silleck's new IMAX film, Wired to Win: Surviving the Tour de France, premiering in Boston on Dec. 5.

Silleck, the director of the IMAX films Cosmic Voyage and Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance, wanted to know what happens in the human brain to allow athletes like Lance Armstrong to push the limits of human endurance in the Tour. His film uses the 23-day race as a starting place to explore the ability of the human brain to overcome adversity and persevere against enormous odds. Silleck wanted to show moviegoers a 3-dimensional model of what a brain undergoing the stresses of the Tour de France would look like, but had no way to get a brain scan of someone actually riding in the Tour.

Van Horn and Riggall designed and rendered animated images of brain activity caused by physical and emotional stresses similar to those experienced by Tour riders. The filmmakers asked them for renderings showing what parts of the brain are activated by use of memory, motor control and emotional functions. For this, Van Horn and Riggall relied on existing data sets from experiments designed to highlight these areas. Van Horn explained that they were "very fortunate to have data that reflected those processes," and he also credited Riggall, who came to the project with only a casual familiarity with the rendering software, with being "the force behind all this. He's got a background in computer science and psychology and that combination of skills and interest were well utilized." The footage they created lasts about one minute - the result of months of painstaking work.

Van Horn and Riggall worked without a script or any specific knowledge of the rest of the film, so the final product will be a surprise to them when they see it at an invitation-only screening shortly after the official premier. Their work will be on view to the public at IMAX theaters around the country. It is scheduled to run at the Mugar Omni Theater at the Boston Museum of Science from Dec. 9 through April 30.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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