At the in­ter­sec­tion of art and sci­ence

Draw­ings by San­ti­ago Ramón y Ca­jal

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

a teen, San­ti­ago Ramón y Ca­jal was known more for pranks than for be­ing stu­dious. He dis­dained au­thor­ity fig­ures, and at age four­teen he gifted his friends with a trea­tise on the de­sign and use of sling­shots. But he also loved ex­plor­ing na­ture, and he in­dulged a ma­nia for draw­ing. “Trans­lat­ing my dreams onto pa­per, with my pen­cil as a magic wand, I con­structed a world ac­cord­ing to my own fancy,” he wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. Ca­jal would go on to ap­ply that tal­ent to ex­haus­tive stud­ies of brain cells and to share the 1906 No­bel Prize in Phys­i­ol­ogy or Medicine with Camillo Golgi for their work on the struc­ture of the ner­vous sys­tem. A se­lec­tion of the more than 2,900 brain-cell draw­ings pro­duced by the man who is known as the fa­ther of modern neu­ro­science is pub­lished by Abrams in The Beau­ti­ful Brain: The Draw­ings of San­ti­ago Ramón y Ca­jal. An ex­hi­bi­tion with the same ti­tle hangs from Jan. 28 to May 21 at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota’s Fred­er­ick R. Weis­man Art Mu­seum in Min­neapo­lis.

Ca­jal (1852-1934) was born in a small vil­lage in north­east­ern Spain. His fa­ther, a doc­tor, frowned on the boy’s artis­tic pur­suits un­til a time when the el­der Ca­jal robbed a grave­yard to har­vest bones for anatom­i­cal stud­ies. When he viewed the draw­ings his son had done of the bones, he was amazed. His ac­ri­mony grad­u­ally turned to pride in the young man’s abil­ity.

Ca­jal’s in­ter­est in do­ing wa­ter­color land­scapes waned as his in­ter­est in the mi­croanatomy of the brain grew. He was known to spend prodi­giously long pe­ri­ods at the mi­cro­scope; his sub­ject was not an easy one. When cut into, the brain presents “a rel­a­tively un­dif­fer­en­ti­ated mass of gray and white mat­ter,” ac­cord­ing to the book’s chap­ter “Draw­ing the Beau­ti­ful Brain” by Weis­man di­rec­tor Lyn­del King and Abrams edi­tor-in-chief Eric Him­mel. An im­por­tant tool for Ca­jal was the mi­cro­scopic study of thin slices of brain tis­sue that he dyed to bring out de­tail.

Mi­cro­scopic pho­tog­ra­phy was not yet ad­vanced enough to pro­duce clear im­ages, so anatomists like

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