Big Brain Energy at the Eiffel Tower

Cynthia Martucci

This past Wednesday, a few of us visited the Eiffel Tower for a picnic on the grass. It was a lovely evening filled with friends, food (i.e. cheese, wine, and baguettes in typical French fashion), and laughs, set underneath the iconic setting of the Eiffel Tower. We definitely were not the only ones enjoying the scenery, as the park was packed with couples, family, and friends soaking up the sun on this fine summer night.


Figure 1: Rachel, Sam, Lauren, and I in front of the Eiffel Tower during our picnic.

Constructed for the 1889 Worlds Fair, the wrought-iron lattice structure has become an emblem of the city and is recognized worldwide. The tower is actually the most visited monument with an entrance fee in the world! When Gustave Eiffel designed the tower, he decided to engrave the names of 72 French scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. I had never realized this scientific connection on my visits to Paris before, and began to wonder whether there were any links to neuroscience. It requires a closer look at the arch, but they are there! One such name I found is Marie François Xavier Bichat. His name appears on the first floor of the tower, 14th on the west facing side.

Figure 2: Portrait of Marie-François-Xavier Bichat.

Xavier Bichat lived from 1771 to 1802, and trained in medicine in Lyon before moving to Paris. He was interested in investigating the pathology of diseases, and in 1799 he left his career as a surgeon to devote his time to experimental physiology, dissection, and autopsies to understand pathological anatomy. He is quoted to have slept in the morgue some nights in order to continue with as many dissections as possible. One of his greatest contributions was identifying and introducing 21 types of tissues as the basic elements of organs. Of even greater interest to us as neuroscience students is this pioneer’s understanding of the brain and nervous system. In his doctrine of life, he claims that the center of the animal life was the brain, and that of the organic life was the heart. For him, “life rests upon a tripod made of respiration, circulation, and nervation” (Haller 1981). He did, though, acknowledge that there is a dependent relationship between the heart and brain, in that the heart provides blood flow to stimulate cerebral tissue. In addition, he identified the importance of the ganglionic nervous system, and described it as a network of tiny, independent brains within the chest cavity. Overall, it is clear that Xavier Bichat deserves to have his name permanently inscribed on the Eiffel Tower and visible to the millions of visitors every year.

Figure 3: A fun throwback from a previous trip I had taken to Paris.


Clarac, F., Barbara, J. G., Broussolle, E., & Poirier, J. (2012). Figures and institutions of the neurological sciences in Paris from 1800 to 1950. Introduction and Part I: Neuroanatomy. Revue neurologique168(1), 2-14.

Haller, J.S., 1981. American Medicine in Transition, 1840–1910. University of Illinois Press, Chicago, p. 13.

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