Friday, September 22, 2017

The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal

The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.
The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings
of Santiago Ramón y Cajal.
An art exhibit titled “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal,” which is traveling through museums in the United States and Canada, relates to topics covered in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. Unfortunately it won’t pass through Detroit, but I was able to enjoy the wonderful book that accompanies the exhibit (thank you Oakland University Interlibrary Loan Department). The introduction begins
Santiago Ramón y Cajal has rightly been credited as the father of modern neuroscience, the study of the structure and function of the brain. Cajal, who lived from 1852 to 1934, was a neuroanatomist who, over the course of five decades, produced more than twenty-nine hundred drawings that reveal the nervous system as we know it today. He studied many aspects of the brain, from the structure of individual neurons…and the connections between them, to the changes that occur in the brain during early life and following injury. He did this by examining thin slices of the brain under a microscope. He treated these slices with chemical stains to highlight different types of brain cells and structures within these cells. Most notably, he used a stain developed by the Italian biologist Camillo Golgi, which colors brain cells a deep, rich black. Cajal improved upon the original formulation of the Golgi stain to obtain exquisite images of neurons.
The introduction then summarizes the contents of the book.
This book presents eighty of Cajal’s original drawings of the brain... Some of these drawings are well known, while others have not been published previously except in Cajal’s original scientific papers. Captions accompanying the drawings describe their subject matter and their scientific importance. Two essays focus respectively on Cajal’s life and scientific achievements, and his mastery of the art of drawings. A third essay brings us up-to-date, describing modern neuroscience imaging methods that Cajal, undoubtedly, would have appreciated. We hope you enjoy Cajal’s vision of the beautiful brain.
As a teaser, below I present some of Cajal’s drawings.

The structure of the retina, a drawing by Santiago Ramon y Cajal.
The structure of the retina.

Cells of the cerebellum, a drawing by Santiago Ramon y Cajal.
Cells of the cerebellum.

Purkinje neurons from the cerebellum, a drawing by Santiago Ramon y Cajal.
Purkinje neurons from the cerebellum.

A pyramidal neuron in the cerebral cortex, a drawing by Santiago Ramon y Cajal.
A pyramidal neuron in the cerebral cortex.

I especially like the last drawing, because it is the one Sheldon was supposed to give to Amy Farrah Fowler for Valentine’s Day, but he decided to keep it for himself instead!

Cajal shared the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Golgi, “in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system.” Below is a photo of Cajal sitting at his microscope. He was a pioneer in photography as well as drawing.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Santiago Ramón y Cajal.
Here is the schedule for the exhibit, in case you are lucky enough to have it visit your town.
You can listen to a National Public Radio broadcast about the exhibit here, and read a review of the exhibit here.


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