Integrating my Love for Art and Brains

Michelle ‘Misha’ Oraa Ali ’17

Research Associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Academic focus: neuroscience and behavior major with a special minor in graphic narrative and visual storytelling

Thesis: Prosody, Poetry and Processing: an Event Related Potential Investigation of Auditory Imagery

Internships: research assistant, University of Pennsylvania; research scholar, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Research Campus

I was going to go to art school before I became enamored with neuroscience. At Mount Holyoke, I was always hoping to somehow integrate my love for art with my love for brains. I got the opportunity to do that twice at Mount Holyoke.

The first was with my research with Mara Breen in the psychology department. My thesis looked at neural signatures in auditory imagery by using poetry, specifically limericks. This research is relevant to both psycholinguistics and music cognition and was even selected to be presented at two conferences in Davis, California, and Montreal, Canada.

The second was a class entitled Art, Music and The Brain, an amazing class that was conducted across the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and music department. We discussed the foundations of visual and auditory perception while also creating works of art and playing the violin throughout the semester.

This incredibly interdisciplinary class also inspired to me to develop a music to colour synaesthesia simulator, which I was then able to bring to life with the help of the College’s Makerspace and a host of collaborators at various hackathons — and, eventually, also present at a conference in Vienna, Austria, and a tech expo at the MIT Media Lab.

Read more about Misha: Invention and Innovation