Category Archives: Brain

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Santiago Ramón y Cajal – Artist and Nobel Prize Winning Scientist

December 4th, 2013 | Brain

Santiago Ramon y Cajal Young

“As long as our brain is a mystery, the universe, the reflection of the structure of the brain will also be a mystery.” - Santiago Ramón y Cajal

I have always found inspiration at the intersection of art and science — believing that each field can be strengthened by the other. Art can grow from science, and science can grow from art. Perhaps no other person in history characterizes this concept stronger than Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Born to an anatomy teacher in 1852 in a small city in northern Spain, Ramón y Cajal went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine in 1906 together with the Italian, Camillo Golgi, “in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system.”

Ramon y Cajal

left: Cajal Legacy Instituto Cajal (CSIC), Madrid | right: Courtesy Thomas Deerink and Mark Ellisman (NCMIR, UCSD)

Ramón y Cajal became famous for his finely detailed drawings of neuroanatomy that changed our understanding of how the nervous system is connected. In his time, neuroscientists believed that the entire nervous system formed a giant “reticulum,” or web of fibers that linked together in one big structure. Cajal, however, determined that nerve cells were not continuous, but separated, providing definitive evidence for what would later be known as the “neuron doctrine.”


Cajal always had a predilection for art. He was an avid painter, artist, and gymnast, yet all of these activities were actively discouraged by his father. Nonetheless, Cajal developed his artistic skills and applied his talents to drawing the architecture of the nervous system. “Realizing that I had discovered a rich field, I proceeded to take advantage of it, dedicating myself to work, no longer merely with earnestness but with fury,” he wrote in Recollections of My Life. “In proportion as new facts appeared in my preparations, ideas boiled up and jostled each other in my mind.”

Santiago Ramon y Cajal Drawings

Cajal published more than 100 articles in French and Spanish scientific periodicals during his career, focusing on the fine structure of the nervous system and especially of the brain and spinal cord, but he also studied muscles and other tissues in the field of general pathology. As you may notice in the images here, Cajal had a tremendous eye for detail.


Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s research led to our understanding that nerve impulses, or action potentials, jump from cell to cell in the brain. These impulses are what make up all of our thoughts, experiences, memories, and emotions, the fundamental concepts which make us human, and is the reason he is so revered in the field of neuroscience.

Cajal is an inspiring figure and a perfect example of a scientist who flourished through artistic expression. If you want further reading about Santiago Ramón y Cajal, I suggest this quick read, which includes a lot of sage advice for anyone interested in science:

Advice for a Young Investigator (Bradford Books)


Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain
― Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Brian Andrews Created a Creepy Fusion of Animals and Humans

November 30th, 2013 | Brain


Hominid is a new animated movie by Brian Andrews. To say that it’s a bit creepy is an understatement. He juxtoposed human skeletons into a world of insects, frogs, and spiders to create something truly strange. The whole project is based on a series of similar photo composites which has been exhibited around the world.

You can find out more information on the project at


A Soft and Squishy Brain

November 23rd, 2013 | Brain

Squishy Brain Video

This incredible pristine brain specimen is fresh out of Anatomy class at the University of Utah. You can even hear the bone saws humming along in the background! The brain has just been removed from an autopsy of a cancer patient who donated his/her body to science.

As Dr. Suzanne Stensaas points out in the video, the take home message is that human brain is extremely soft and squishy. So wear your helmet!


[via Boing Boing]

Incredible Dinosaur Pumpkins at the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze

October 31st, 2013 | Brain

Dinosaur Pumpkins 3

Pumpkin Dinosaurs

Dinosaur Pumpkins 4

Pumpkin Clock

Pumpkin Arch

Pumpkin Arch 2

Pumpkin Spider

Pumpkin Design

Pumpkin gazebo

The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is a month-long Halloween festival held every year at the Van Cortlandt Manor near New York City. The event features over 5,000 hand-carved pumpkins crafted into a variety of incredible designs.

Here’s a word from the organizers:

“Stroll through the Tunnel O’ Pumpkin Love and witness the incredible sight of gourd-filled Jack-in-the-Boxes springing up and bouncing around. See slithering ground snakes, a giant spider web, and go gaga over a collection of shrunken Little Monsters. Gaze in amazement at a towering pumpkin bonfire and a working doomsday grandfather clock.

A giant sea serpent adds some hiss to the Undersea Aquarium while comical, squash-eating Venus pumpkin traps sprout in the garden. New dinosaur additions this year to Blaze’s perennially popular Jurassic Park include a pterodactyl and a brontosaurus.”

The sculptures are pretty amazing, so I would definitely try to check it out next year if you live in the area. Unfortunately, all of this year’s tickets have been sold out! However, you can see a whole lot more images on flickr.


[via Colossal]

“Carn” by Jeff Le Bars

October 7th, 2013 | Brain


-Lost in the woods, a young boy makes a fateful oath with a dying wolf.

“Carn” is a short animated film from Jeff Le Bars, which he created for a 2012 graduation project. The design is superb and the storyline is even better. This artist has a very bright future.

Hope you enjoy.


Using Optogenetics to Fight Obesity

October 3rd, 2013 | Brain


Joshua Jennings and Garret Stuber of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently developed an experiment to “turn off” hunger in a genetically-modified mouse. The process utilizes a technique known as optogenetics (discussed before here). This technology essentially means that you can use a laser to control certain cells in the brain, and afterwards, observe what happens to the behavior of the animal. In this case, the researchers successfully manipulated neurons in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), which have been known to regulate hunger through their actions on the lateral hypothalamus.

Limbic System

As you can see in the video above, when the laser activates, the mouse immediately begins to eat, and when the laser inactivates, the mouse stops eating. It’s really quite amazing!

Of course, it would a long time before anything like this could work in humans.  A key factor in this sort of experiment is that the mouse has genetically-engineered cells which respond to light, but this research does represent a first step in understanding how to manipulate neurons to control complex urges such as hunger.

If this sparked your interest, you can read more about the Stuber Lab and its research here, and if you’d like to read the article for yourself (with subscription), head here.


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