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Scientists on Images That Made a Difference in Their Lives

Escher cube An "Escher Cube" designed in the style of M.C. Escher. Created by: Len zuò

Jef Boeke, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics

As a kid I was obsessed with the idea of the fourth and higher dimensions, so much so I would literally cry at night because I could not understand it. When I saw the work of Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, it calmed me down. I never really thought about it before, but he combines dimension-bending conceptual work with images of nature that are easier to relate to. I still love looking at Escher’s art. It definitely encourages one to “think outside the box.”

Jen Pluznick, Assistant Professor of Physiology

Years ago a physiologist named Arthur Guyton made a circuit diagram showing how blood pressure is controlled. It's a well-known image because of its extreme complexity—and it’s pretty humbling. Whenever I do a study or hear of a study where some factor was manipulated to produce a change in blood pressure, but blood pressure remains unchanged, I think of this diagram. If you manipulate just one parameter, one of the gazillion other parameters will compensate for it. Once I gave a seminar and someone asked me something along the lines of, “Wouldn't you have expected a change in blood pressure? Why do you think you didn't see it?” I just said, “Yes, I did expect a change in blood pressure, but... have you ever seen Guyton's circuit diagram?” He immediately conceded the point.

Seth Margolis, Assistant Professor of Biological Chemistry

Purkinje cell Purkinje cell, a type of neuron, drawn by Cajal.

Our understanding of how the brain is put together stems from the work of pathologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal who, over a century ago, through the use of a Golgi staining technique of brain tissue and a microscope and a tremendous artistic talent, was able to visualize the nervous system and depict its complex nature. In a way that defined the words we use today, his original sketches of the human brain show diversity in neuronal morphology, and suggest the intriguing idea that different morphology may indicate different function. The artwork of Cajal continually reminds me that the nervous system is not a single unit but a complex array of cells with varying functions working together to give rise to human behavior and cognitive function.

--Melissa Hendricks

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