Ever since learning French in high school, I have dreamed of visiting Paris. Over the years, I found myself collecting miniature Eiffel Towers with the hopes of visiting the real one one day. Finally, 7 years later, I was able to make that dream come true and not only admire the monument from afar but also climb upon it. My favorite view was at night when the lights illuminated the tower. An interesting fact that I learned from the tour guide was that from all the suggestions that Gustave Eiffel received when making the design, one of the only ones he decided to incorporate was the suggestion to add scientists’ names to the side of the structure. I was very surprised to learn that Marie François Xavier Bichat, who did research on neuroscience, made the exclusive list! Whenever I think of the Eiffel tower now, I will always connect it to neuroscience, both because of Marie François and because of the amazing experience I had in the city of love!
This past Saturday, Khushi, Jewel, Sharay, and I visited the Palace and Gardens of Versaille. I had been waiting to visit the well-known and highly trafficked gardens since we first arrived in Paris. After finding out that they have a special firework night show during the weekends of the month of June, we got our tickets for June 18th and prepared for our trip. As we arrived, I marveled at the immensity and grandeur of the gardens, which included various fountains that each had unique architecture. While walking around, I felt so happy to be there and could only imagine what factors led Louis the XIV to build these beautiful gardens. I was reminded of the Blue Mind Theory, which believes that water positively affects your brain and induces a mildly meditative state that people find themselves in when near water. Perhaps Louis XIV subscribed to this theory.
After our last day of class, Lauren, Cynthia, and I visited Disneyland Paris! We enjoyed a day filled with thrilling roller coasters, that felt faster than those in Disney World in the U.S.. We then questioned the possibility of differences in regulations and engineering. To end the day, we watched a spectacular sunset behind the castle! Unfortunately, these colorful sunsets are due to the contribution of air pollution which increases the quantity of particles that results in this scattering of light. Upon this realization, the “deteriorated air quality” I have seen on my weather app all week made sense as I finally understood this was a noticeable effect. Lastly, Disneyland performed their signature firework show along with a special light show where images were projected on the castle. These shows were a combination of fireworks, light projections, music, fountains, and most surprisingly, dozens of synchronized drones with colored lights.
Marie Curie is buried at the Pantheon which is only blocks away from her lab that I had the pleasure of visiting as well. While this lab was where she did work that provided significant breakthroughs for science, it is also likely what killed her. Inside her lab, I learned about the history of radium and the misconceptions that existed. Upon the discovery of radium, and the discovery of its ability to kill cancer cells, it was seen as a cure all and added to many products, such as incorporated into the paint on watches and added to razors. Eventually, it became apparent that this misconception was widely inaccurate and that there are many dangers to radium exposure despite it being used as a cancer treatment. I am currently reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and was intrigued to see the reference to Marie Curie and discussion of Henrietta Lacks’s radium treatment.
On Friday, June 17th, we took a class visit to the Loire Valley, where we took a tour of Amboise Chateau where Leondardo Da Vinci’s remains can be found in the chapel. I had no idea that that he was buried in France, so it was so exciting to visit a location where he once worked on ground-breaking discoveries. He is recognized for his early contributions of anatomical sketches, amongst his other titles as engineer, painter, theorist, architect, and scientist. For neuroscience, he produced neuroanatomical depictions of the brain, skull, and cerebral ventricles as he attempted to localize the sensory and motor functions in the brain. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by his sketches and work, clearly a great example of curiosity and innovation!
On Monday, June 13th, we took a class visit to the Musée de l’Homme which is an anthropology museum. Its yearround exhibition focuses on the evolution of humans and human societies. Pictured above is a display that caught my attention called “ A brain to think about the world.” The neurons painted in the display lit up in a lightening fashion, modeling the speed and connection in neural signaling. In the picture, you can also see the different brains of different animals, including an elephant and dolphin’s. It always amazes me to be able to see such significant differences in brain sizes when comparing them to ours!
Last week, we traveled as a class to the Loire Valley. After nearly 3 hours on the bus, we finally arrived in the beautiful region of central France. Despite the heat that day, we all had a lovely time exploring the town. The Loire is the longest river in Europe, and it flows past over 20 castles. I was surprised to learn how large of a role Amboise played in the late life of Leonardo da Vinci. He spent the last three years of his life at the Château du Clos Lucé. At the château, models of his many invention ideas were on display. We have much to thank da Vinci for his contributions to our understanding of cranial anatomy, and so it was impressive to see the space in which he developed such ideas and discoveries. The gardens of the Château d’Amboise, pictured behind me are a worthy burial site for the scientific pioneer.
During a class visit to the Cimetiere du Pire Lachiase, one of the most famous cemeteries in Paris that houses the remains of many royal or famous individuals, gives insight to the cultural traditions regarding death and burial. However, the cemetery also offered the opportunity to learn about famous French scientists and the contributions they made to science. Upon my time at this cemetery, I visited the grave of Etienne Geoffery Saint-Hillaire who was a naturalist contributed to the theory of evolution. Geoffery had a significant role in the establishment of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle and performed work supporting the presence of homologous parts. Additionally, Geoffery made significant contributions to developmental biology and performed work on the organization of structures across different species. It was exciting and inspiring to have the opportunity to visit a founding scientist that contributed to so many concepts I have learned about.