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Jan. 25, 2012

Beauty in Brains

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
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Whenever I yank meat from a lobster or crack a crab claw, one thought always pops into my head: these look like giant spiders. It doesn’t stop me from eating them (delicious giant spiders), but it does make me think about arthropods. How is the spider I escort from my kitchen (with a massive paper towel buffer between us) or the stinkbug buzzing overhead related to the crustacean I welcome to my plate? What do these creatures have in common? One possibility–beautiful brains.
 
Don’t believe me? There’s plenty of proof in the new, 800-plus page book, Arthropod Brains: Evolution, Functional Elegance, and Historical Significance by Nicholas James Strausfeld (Harvard University Press, 2012). The book looks at the structure of arthropod brains, their similarity to mammalian brains, and tells the stories of the scientists who worked (and are still working) to figure it all out.
 
Strausfeld, a professor and Director of the Center for Insect Science at the University of Arizona, spans centuries telling the history of arthropod neuroanatomical discovery, beginning with the insect studies of the 17th century microscopist Robert Hooke. Hundreds of images, including drawings from the notebooks of the French naturalist Dujardin and Santiago Ramón y Cajal, described as the “founder of the neuron doctrine,” accompany the text. But for me, the highlights of the book are those beautiful slices of brain. Here’s a sampling of images, in the slideshow above.
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About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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