7 Science Illustrators You Should Know
Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal

At the crossroads of art and science, Beautiful Brain presents Nobel Laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s contributions to neuroscience through his groundbreaking artistic brain imagery.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934) was the father of modern neuroscience and an exceptional artist. He devoted his life to the anatomy of the brain, the body’s most complex and mysterious organ. His superhuman feats of visualization, based on fanatically precise techniques and countless hours at the microscope, resulted in some of the most remarkable illustrations in the history of science. Beautiful Brain presents a selection of his exquisite drawings of brain cells, brain regions, and neural circuits with accessible descriptive commentary.

These drawings are explored from multiple perspectives: Larry W. Swanson describes Cajal’s contributions to neuroscience; Lyndel King and Eric Himmel explore his artistic roots and achievement; Eric A. Newman provides commentary on the drawings; and Janet M. Dubinsky describes contemporary neuroscience imaging techniques. This book is the companion to a traveling exhibition opening at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis in February 2017, marking the first time that many of these works, which are housed at the Instituto Cajal in Madrid, have been seen outside of Spain.

Beautiful Brain showcases Cajal’s contributions to neuroscience, explores his artistic roots and achievement, and looks at his work in relation to contemporary neuroscience imaging, appealing to general readers and professionals alike.

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Hay demasiados libros, todo ya ha sido escrito, sobre cada cosa, sobre cada sombra hay millares de libros. He llegado tarde al banquete de la cultura universal, y si bien no me vedan la entrada se divierten proponiendo a mi hambre tal cantidad de platos y de variaciones, que yo ya no sé diferenciar un poema de una sonrisa, un ademán de odio de una plegaria japonesa.

Alejandra Pizarnik. Diarios. Miércoles 20 de noviembre de 1957

Foto: Santiago Ramón y Cajal en su laboratorio. Valencia. 1885


One of the biggest problems when studying black holes is that the laws of physics as we know them cease to apply in their deepest regions. Large quantities of matter and energy concentrate in an infinitely small space, the gravitational singularity, where space-time curves towards infinity and all matter is destroyed. Or is it?

A recent study by researchers at the Institute of Corpuscular Physics (IFIC, CSIC-UV) in Valencia suggests that matter might in fact survive its foray into these space objects and come out the other side.

Published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, the Valencian physicists propose considering the singularity as if it were an imperfection in the geometric structure of space-time. And by doing so they resolve the problem of the infinite, space-deforming gravitational pull.

“Black holes are a theoretical laboratory for trying out new ideas about gravity,” says Gonzalo Olmo, a Ramón y Cajal grant researcher at the Universitat de València (University of Valencia, UV). Alongside Diego Rubiera, from the University of Lisbon, and Antonio Sánchez, PhD student also at the UV, Olmo’s research sees him analysing black holes using theories besides general relativity (GR).

Specifically, in this work he has applied geometric structures similar to those of a crystal or graphene layer, not typically used to describe black holes, since these geometries better match what happens inside a black hole: “Just as crystals have imperfections in their microscopic structure, the central region of a black hole can be interpreted as an anomaly in space-time, which requires new geometric elements in order to be able to describe them more precisely. We explored all possible options, taking inspiration from facts observed in nature.”

Using these new geometries, the researchers obtained a description of black holes whereby the centre point becomes a very small spherical surface. This surface is interpreted as the existence of a wormhole within the black hole. “Our theory naturally resolves several problems in the interpretation of electrically-charged black holes,” Olmo explains. “In the first instance we resolve the problem of the singularity, since there is a door at the centre of the black hole, the wormhole, through which space and time can continue.”

This study is based on one of the simplest known types of black hole, rotationless and electrically-charged. The wormhole predicted by the equations is smaller than an atomic nucleus, but gets bigger the bigger the charge stored in the black hole. So, a hypothetical traveller entering a black hole of this kind would be stretched to the extreme, or “spaghettified,” and would be able to enter the wormhole. Upon exiting they would be compacted back to their normal size.

Seen from outside, these forces of stretching and compaction would seem infinite, but the traveller himself, living it first-hand, would experience only extremely intense, and not infinite, forces. It is unlikely that the star of Interstellar would survive a journey like this, but the model proposed by IFIC researchers posits that matter would not be lost inside the singularity, but rather would be expelled out the other side through the wormhole at its centre to another region of the universe.

Another problem that this interpretation resolves, according to Olmo, is the need to use exotic energy sources to generate wormholes. In Einstein’s theory of gravity, these “doors” only appear in the presence of matter with unusual properties (a negative energy pressure or density), something which has never been observed. “In our theory, the wormhole appears out of ordinary matter and energy, such as an electric field” (Olmo).

The interest in wormholes for theoretical physics goes beyond generating tunnels or doors in space-time to connect two points in the universe. They would also help explain phenomena such as quantum entanglement or the nature of elementary particles. Thanks to this new interpretation, the existence of these objects could be closer to science than fiction.

Can You Think Yourself Into a Different Person?

by Will Storr, Mosaic Science

For years she had tried to be the perfect wife and mother but now, divorced, with two sons, having gone through another break-up and in despair about her future, she felt as if she’d failed at it all, and she was tired of it. On June 6, 2007, Debbie Hampton, of Greensboro, North Carolina, took an overdose. That afternoon, she’d written a note on her computer: “I’ve screwed up this life so bad that there is no place here for me and nothing I can contribute.” Then, in tears, she went upstairs, sat on her bed, and put on a Dido CD to listen to as she died.

But then she woke up again. She’d been found, rushed to hospital, and saved. “I was mad,” she says. “I’d messed it up. And, on top of that, I’d brain-damaged myself.” After Debbie emerged from her one-week coma, her doctors gave her their diagnosis: encephalopathy. “That’s just a general term which means the brain’s not operating right,” she says. She couldn’t swallow or control her bladder, and her hands constantly shook. Much of the time, she couldn’t understand what she was seeing. She could barely even speak. “All I could do was make sounds,” she says. “It was like my mouth was full of marbles. It was shocking, because what I heard from my mouth didn’t match what I heard in my head.” After a stay in a rehabilitation center, she began recovering slowly. But, a year in, she plateaued. “My speech was very slow and slurred. My memory and thinking was unreliable. I didn’t have the energy to live a normal life. A good day for me was emptying the dishwasher.”

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“El nacionalismo es una enfermedad infantil. Es el sarampión de la humanidad”. Albert Einstein.

“Los nacionalistas no sólo no desaprueban los hechos atroces realizados por su bando, incluso tienen una capacidad increíble para ni siquiera oír hablar de ellos”.George Orwell.

“Por mi vida han galopado todos los corceles amarillentos del Apocalipsis, la revolución y el hambre, la inflación y el terror, las epidemias y la emigración; he visto nacer y expandirse ante mis propios ojos las grandes ideologías de masas: el fascismo en Italia, el nacionalsocialismo en Alemania, el bolchevismo en Rusia y, sobre todo, la peor de todas las pestes: el nacionalismo, que envenena la flor de nuestra cultura europea”.Stefan Zweig.

“El nacionalismo es la extraña creencia de que un país es mejor que otro por virtud del hecho de que naciste ahí”.
George Bernard Shaw.

“Ser internacionalista es estar racionalmente convencido de que la división en naciones -que no tiene nada de natural- no hace sino impedir la emancipación humana y que el mito patriótico-nacional sirve siempre para legitimar en el poder a la oligarquía mas abyecta y rapaz”. Fernando Savater.

“Todas las madres y todas las patrias nos quieren pequeños para que seamos más suyos”. Fernando Savater.

“La patria no es el lugar donde se nace, sino donde se es libre”. Mario Onaindía.

“La nacionalidad no aspira ni a la libertad ni a la prosperidad, sino que, si le es necesario, no duda en sacrificar ambas a las necesidades imperativas de la construcción nacional”. Lord Acton.

“El nacionalismo es siempre una tontería, y el nacionalismo étnico, una tontería asesina”
Bernard Henri-Lévy.

“El Estado es superación de toda sociedad natural, es mestizo y plurilingüe”. Ortega y Gasset.

“El orgullo más barato es el orgullo nacional, que delata en quien lo siente la ausencia de cualidades individuales”Goethe.

“El patriotismo es la menos perspicaz de las pasiones” J.L.Borges.

“La ideología del siglo XXI debe ser el humanismo global, pero tiene dos peligrosos enemigos: el nacionalismo y el fundamentalismo religioso”. Ryszard Kapuscinski.

“Los hombres guerrean para adquirir un pedazo de tierra donde ser prematuramente enterrados”.Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

“Una nación es un grupo de gente basada en la creencia errónea en un común origen y en una común aversión a sus vecinos”.Haddon y Huxley.

“Amo demasiado a mi país para ser nacionalista”. A.Camus.

“Nuestra verdadera nacionalidad es la del género humano”.Herbert G. Wells.

“Cuantas menos razones tiene un hombre para enorgullecerse de sí mismo, más suele enorgullecerse de pertenecer a una nación”.Arthur Schopenhauer.

“Daría la mitad de mi vida para que los nacionalistas pudieran defender sus tesis, pero la otra mitad la necesito para batallar para que los nacionalistas no consigan lo que pretenden."Voltaire.

"El nacionalismo es un atavismo que tiene su origen en el instinto de territorialidad de los mamíferos”. Anónimo.

“El nacionalismo es la piel de cordero que utiliza el lobo racista”. Anónimo[.

Ο πατέρας της σύγχρονης νευρολογίας και ο τρόπος που εικονογραφούσε τις λειτουργίες του ανθρώπινου εγκεφάλου είναι οι πρωταγωνιστές της καινούργιας εκδοτικής πρότασης των Abrams Books.

Ο Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), ο διάσημος ιστολόγος και νευροεπιστήμονας, ήθελε να γίνει καλλιτέχνης και φωτογράφος, αλλά ο πατέρας του Χούστο Ραμόν, λέκτορας ιατρικής και ανατομίας επέμενε να ακολουθήσει σταδιοδρομία γιατρού. Ο Spaniard επέλεξε τελικά τον τομέα της νευρολογίας, αλλά το ενδιαφέρον του για τις εικαστικές τέχνες παρέμεινε έντονο και μάλιστα αποδείχθηκε πολύ χρήσιμο, όταν οι εικονογραφήσεις του άρχισαν να κοσμούν τις σελίδες της ιατρικής βιβλιογραφίας. Το The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings, κυκλοφόρησε πρόσφατα από την Abrams Books και παρουσιάζει 80 εικονογραφήσεις του ανθρώπινου εγκεφάλου από τον Santiago Ramón y Cajal ο οποίος συχνά χαρακτηρίζεται ως “ο πατέρας της μοντέρνας νευροεπιστήμης”. Η έκδοση συνοδεύει την ομότιτλη έκθεση που εγκαινιάστηκε τον Ιανουάριο στο Weisman Art Museum στο Πανεπιστήμιο της Μινεσότα (μέχρι τις 21 Μαΐου) και διοργανώθηκε από το Ινστιτούτο Cajal που εδρεύει στη Μαδρίτη της Ισπανίας.

Ο Cajal, ο οποίος βραβεύτηκε με το Νόμπελ Ιατρικής το 1906 παραμένει άγνωστος σε σχέση με τους σύγχρονούς του επιστήμονες του 19ου αιώνα, Δαρβίνο και Παστέρ. Ο νευροεπιστήμονας Larry W. Swanson γράφει σε ένα κεφάλαιο του βιβλίου ότι αυτό μπορεί να συμβαίνει «γιατί δεν υπάρχουν απλά μέσα για να αποδώσουν περιληπτικά τον τρόπο με τον οποίο ο Cajal και οι σύγχρονοί του εξήγησαν και εικονογράφησαν τις λειτουργίες του εγκεφάλου σαν ένα βιολογικό δίκτυο με έναν εντελώς καινούργιο τρόπο, ο οποίος παραμένει θεμελιώδης στην επιστήμη της νευρολογίας, ακόμα και σήμερα». Πράγματι ίσως κάποιοι αναγνώστες του βιβλίου να δυσκολευτούν να καταλάβουν πώς κατάφερε να διακρίνει τις πληροφορίες που παραθέτει για τη ροή πληροφοριών των νευρώνων στον αμφιβληστροειδή μόνο με τη μελέτη δειγμάτων μέσα από ένα μικροσκόπιο. Οι απεικονίσεις του ωστόσο όχι μόνο είναι επιστημονικά ακριβείς, αλλά είναι περίπλοκες και εντυπωσιακές και δεν μπορεί παρά να θαυμάσει κάποιος τη σαφήνεια που τις διακρίνει και τις γεμάτες σιγουριά και κίνηση γραμμές του. Όπως λέει και ο Eric Himmel στο εισαγωγικό σημείωμα του βιβλίου:«Οι δενδρίτες και οι άξονες, το πυκνό δίκτυο του εγκεφάλου, φαίνεται να πάλλονται από ζωή». Κι ακόμα κι αν σήμερα μπορούμε να εξετάσουμε πιο ακριβείς σαρώσεις του εγκεφάλου, το έργο του Cajal αποπνέει μια προφητική άποψη της εσωτερικής λειτουργίας του ανθρώπινου εγκεφάλου.

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