Bioethics Blogs

Snapshots of Life: Reward Seeking, in Technicolor

Rainbow noodles

Credit: Saleem Nicola, Vincent B. McGinty, James J. Kim, and Sylvie Lardeux

Originally, this vibrant picture was just a set of black lines on a graph, charting the various paths of a laboratory rat as it made its way toward a lever to release a shot of sugar water. But Dr. Saleem Nicola, an NIH-funded researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, wanted to pique the interest of his colleagues, so he decided to have a bit of fun with the image.

First, Dr. Nicola broadened the lines, giving them a noodle-like appearance. He then went on to use other information about the rat journeys to add rainbow hues, and, finally, he replaced the white background with black. The result is an eye-catching image that is among the winners of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2013 BioArt competition.

The black background that you see above is actually the floor plan of an experimental chamber. The knot of colors at the top edge reveals the location of a bottle of sugar water and the lever that the rat needed to push to drink from it. Beginning in various places in the chamber, each line plots the rat’s journey toward the sugar water after hearing a bell ring. The colors represent the orientation of the animal’s head when it hears the bell; warm tones show that the animal is facing away from the sugar water, and cooler tones show the rat’s turn toward the sweet treat.

So, what is the point of all of this experimentation with bells and sugar water?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.