Flashes of Brilliance winners

We’ve had some amazing entries into our very first Flashes of Brilliance competition - you could even say they were mind-blowing! And now we are excited to announce who the winners are.

We received 36 entries, each of which had a unique story to tell!  Some looked like images from deep space while others were more like undersea creatures. It was our goal to shine a light on the beauty of the brain and its complexities and give researchers a chance to share the beauty they see every day under the microscope. Thank you to everyone who entered – we appreciated you taking the time to share your passion with us. 

With so many great images to choose from it was a challenge for our judges to choose a first-place winner, let alone a second and third!

Our judging panel included:

Michael Frawley – CEO, Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Michel Tuffrey – Artist
Dr Simon Ingram – Fine Arts Lecturer and Artist
Anne Harlow – Collection Manager, Humanities, Otago Museum
Stephen Mathew – Science Communicator, Otago Museum

1st Place

Party Poppers by Dr Helen Murray

Party Popper

“This image shows the complex network of connections within the human olfactory bulb - the brain area responsible for our sense of smell. The large purple structures called glomeruli are the sites where brain cells receive odour information direct from the outside world.”

Dr Helen Murray, whose current field of study is Alzheimer's disease neuroanatomy the University of Auckland.


2nd Place


“Here you are looking inside a mouse brain where in blue we see the nucleus of brain cells (there are billions of cells in the brain), in red are the connections between different brain cells (there are trillions of these connections in our brain), and in green are brain cells in the cortex and hippocampal CA1 region that shine brighter when they are active and talking to other brain cells.”

Dr Yukti Vyas, currently studying Autism Spectrum Disorders and Alzheimer's Disease at the University of Auckland. 

3rd Place

Miniature-Cosmos Inside Your Head

“This beautiful image of what resembles blackhole or galaxy - is actually a microscopic image of the cochlea; our hearing organ. We have one spiral with diameter approx. 9mm in each side of our head. Cells responsible for sensing "sound" are shown in green colour, and they line-up along the spiral. Cochlear spirals are as important as they are beautiful, because they are responsible for our sense of hearing, allowing us to enjoy all the chit-chat and music!”

Dr Haruna Suzuki-Kerr, who is currently studying auditory neuroscience at the University of Auckland

People's Choice

The neuron and its true colours

“Here we see a neuron, the unit in our brains responsible for controlling everything we do. Amazing that such a small structure is the reason we can be who we are, and we can do what we do. Modern technologies and techniques allow us to look at how neurons work and how they respond to injuries. We can test which proteins play a role in neurological conditions, and we can see how they move to different regions within neurons to regulate multiple roles. We can see these processes (in the nanoscale) live in neurons using fluorescent techniques and high-resolution microscopy.”

Dr Macarena Pavez, neuroscience at the University of Otago

Staff Pick

And because we had such a resounding love of a photo that was very close for People’s Choice, we did an impromptu internal choice of “Staff Pick”.

Into the depth

"The beautiful jellyfish in this picture is actually your brain. By slightly changing your view, you can find extraordinary pictures within your brain. The hood of this jellyfish is the top of your head and the arms are your neural fiber tracts. Some species of jellyfish produce ‘flashes of brilliance’ through bioluminescence, and the flashes of human brilliance are visualised here thanks to the advanced medical imaging technique, tractography."

Maryam Tayebi & Eryn Kwon who are studying bioengineering at Matai Medical Research Institute , Auckland Bioengineering Institute


Congratulations to everyone who entered to win and our finalists!

With our 50th anniversary coming up next year, we have a lot on the horizon planned, but seeing as we had such fun with this competition, we’ll be hosting it again next year in June 2021. We hope that you’ll all enter again with new and exciting images for our judges to review!

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