Thursday, June 17, 2021

Ramón y Cajal's Drawings of Neurons

As far back as Leonardo da Vinci, artists have propelled our understanding of anatomy. 

One artist named Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) contributed to our conception of the neurons of the brain with his exquisite drawings.

Before his time, anatomists believed that neurons were like a network of connected pipes and tubules that conveyed liquids throughout the brain. 

But Ramón y Cajal believed neurons were separate, individual structures and that he could see tiny gaps between them that came to be known as synapses. Together those two insights are known as the "neuron doctrine," and that understanding is fundamental to neuroscience.

Ramón y Cajal shared the Nobel Prize for his discovery with Camillo Golgi, who developed the special staining method that allowed the neurons to be individually visible. 

But even Golgi didn't agree that synapses existed, for they were so tiny that they were almost impossible to see through the microscopes of the time.

Learn more:

Wikipedia on: Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Quanta Magazine: Why the First Drawings of Neurons Were Defaced

BBC Science Focus podcast: Your Brain Chemistry and You


Cody said...

What a fascinating story. Thanks for linking to the story about the stamps. I'm interested in a minor way in cataloguing and archiving, and I enjoyed reading that part of the history. I personally have stacks of journals more or less filled chronologically and dated on the front page and spine with haphazardly completed indexes. I haven't taken any other recording activity (photos or sketches) seriously enough to have even that level of organization for any of them.

Tomas de Zarate said...

In Spain he is enormously famous.
There are many streets that are named after him. In most towns and in all cities.
There are jokes with his last name: contestants on "reality shows" and people who are not famous for their intelligence, training or stuff done, they sometimes believe that hi is two people.
There is no one in Spain who sees him as an artist but as a scientist.
And yet the drawings are extraordinarily beautiful.

arenhaus said...

He was a scientist primarily, not an artist. Technical drawing had been a skill routinely taught in school and many higher study institutions; engineers, military officers, architects, a lot of profession depended on that skill.

James Gurney said...

Eugene and Tomas, I understand what you mean, but I don't draw a line between artists and scientists. One can be an artist and also a scientist.

Helga Parker said...

I came across "Ramón y Cajal's Drawings of Neurons" a couple of years ago. Loved reading his "Recollection of my Life" first published in Madrid 1901- 1917. First paperback (in English) 1989. I am getting ready reading it again. I have a copy of his book "The beautiful Brain" I teach psychology and I am very interested in the Brain the processor of our being where everything originates.