Client: McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT

Location: Cambridge, MA, United States

Completion date: 2016

Artwork budget: $350,000

Project Team


Ralph Helmick

Helmick Sculpture


McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT


Ralph Helmick was engaged by the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT to create an artwork that would reflect their scientific mission while subtly encouraging visitors to ascend stairs to their main offices from the street level entry.
The resulting sculpture is Schwerpunkt, the German term for “focal point”.
17’ high 18’ wide 24’ deep 100 unique sculptures of neurons
media: stainless steel / bronze matrix; gold leaf; stainless steel cable.


The twin goals were to 1.) esthetically elevate the site while alluding to neuroscience, and 2.) encourage visitors to ascend the stairs to the main office through art, not signage. Art, of course, is founded on design. Likewise, superior scientific experimentation is characterized by ingenious design.
The human brain is so intricate that the prospect of coaxing order and understanding from such a supremely complex mass seems daunting. But research at the McGovern Institute is distinguished by designs of elegance, even beauty, that are up the challenge.
Schwerpunkt is a visual metaphor for this kind of investigation.


The artist led an extraordinary collaborative team to create a complex and challenging sculpture through traditional and cutting edge fabrication. 3D manufacturing. The team included Institute staff, the architect, engineers, experts in 3D manufacturing, gold leaf experts and lighting designers.

Additional Information

One hundred sculptures of neurons are suspended in the 3-story entrance, executed in unique configurations and a range of sizes. Cascading in a seemingly random array, their gold-leafed surfaces harness and reflect light throughout the space. However, when viewed from a single perspective on the balcony, these forms optically cohere into a macroscopic rendering of a human brain. This visual phenomenon, known as anamorphosis, exemplifies a “focal point” of discovery, in this case a schwerpunkt of profound scientific breakthrough.