Last Friday, we ventured out of Paris to Loire Valley in Amboise, a quaint town with a gorgeous chateau. In fact, the chateau was the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci. Although da Vinci is well known for his contributions to science, technology, and art, he also made significant strides in the field of neuroscience. Before his time in Loire Valley, he created anatomical drawings of the skull, brain, and cerebral ventricles. He also used hot wax to create a cast of the ventricles and further advanced our understanding of cranial nerves, specifically identifying the olfactory nerve as a cranial nerve. His integration of art and science drove the era of modern science forward (Pevsner, 2019).
Reference: Pevsner J. (2019). Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of the brain. Lancet (London, England), 393(10179), 1465–1472. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30302-2
Last week, we visited the Musée de l’Homme, an anthropology museum. Upon our arrival, I was stunned by its proximity to the Eiffel Tower. There was a beautiful balcony with the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower and part of the skyline of Paris. The museum had multiple floors, displaying the history of man. I was most intrigued by the development of the brain, as I learned a lot about pre-Homo sapiens brains in one of the NBB classes. It was interesting to see the timeline of human evolution and relate that to what I learned in my Introduction to Behavior class at Emory. I was able to recognize the different hominins (our ancestors!) Below, you can see a picture of Ally and I in front of a display of different brains – so cool! The display also included the brains of chimpanzees and gorillas with whom we share a common ancestor.
There was a fascinating interactive display that converted my face into that of a Neanderthal – I felt like a whole new person! I remembered from NBB 201 that our ancestors had flatter and wider skulls in comparison to our more globular skulls. I also really enjoyed learning more about the cultural aspect of our ancestors. I saw the different tools that were used by Homo erectus and Homo habilis. I feel a lot more confident in my understanding of our ancestors and development as humans because of the biological and cultural displays.
One unique aspect of the museum was the wall of tongues – creepy, right? But I promise they weren’t real tongues. They were model tongues and when you pulled them, you were able to hear different dialects from languages across the world. Although I was nervous to touch the potentially germ-infested tongues, I was intrigued by the opportunity to hear a new dialect. My favorite was Tagalog which comes from the Phillipines!
Another small display of the museum, pictured below, that I thought was interesting was the division of the brain based on phrenology by Dr. Spurzheim. Phrenology is a field of neuroscience that focuses on how the shape of the brain affects certain functions and behaviors. Dr. Spurzheim was mentored by Dr. Franz Gall, the founder of phrenology. Together, they identified many different functional areas of the brain. Dr. Spurzheim brought the study of phrenology to America when he moved to the Boston. Although phrenology is a pseudoscience, Dr Spurzheim’s work greatly contributed to our modern understanding of the anatomy of the brain (Bilal et al., 2017).
Bilal, M., Edwards, B., Loukas, M., Oskouian, R. J., & Tubbs, R. S. (2017). Johann Gaspar Spurzheim: A Life Dedicated to Phrenology. Cureus, 9(5), e1295. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.1295
Last week, we visited the Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine at Université Paris Cité. The museum was very beautiful with lots of wood paneling and skylights. There were also quite a few paintings that depicted how medicine was conducted in the earlier centuries. The main part of the museum, however, was the medical equipment. A case of tools used for drilling burr holes in the skull can be seen in the picture above. Burr holes have been used for centuries to treat intracranial diseases and release pressure. In the past, it was believed that burr holes could rid people of evil spirits. Today, drilling burr holes is much more precise and requires MRI and CT imaging to ensure it is being done in the correct place. The technology is also much more advanced, so the drills only cut through bone and spare the brain tissue.
Today we ventured to the Musée de Moulages for the second time. Although it was an optional excursion, I was excited to go and see the different skin disease and conditions. Traveling to the museum allowed us to walk through a new arrondissement of Paris and see a beautiful canal. Held within hospital grounds, we saw patients enjoying the outdoors and doctors taking a break or walking to a neighboring building in the hospital.
Upon entering the museum, we saw drawings and paintings of patients with different skin conditions. In the entryway, there was a sculpture of Louis IX, the ancestor of Henry IV. Upstairs housed the real exhibit: over 4,800 castings of all types of dermatological problems, from syphilitic chancres to eczema to elephantiasis. Jules Baretta is the one who first started making the wax dermatological models after his great success with his realistic models of fruit. Despite these fascinating displays, we were strictly prohibited from taking photos, as they came from moldings of real patients, so the museum is protecting their privacy. I think it is important that the museum values the privacy of the patients so strongly, even though the patients are most likely dead.
I was most fascinated by the syphilis exhibition, one of their largest displays with 442 wax models. In class, we learned about neurosyphilis and ocular syphilis and their corresponding symptoms. As I was a part of the group who presented on this target article, I had the pleasure of finding Google Images of these symptoms, such as the chancres. I realized that Google Images only displayed the mild versions of the symptoms. The extent to which syphilis can affect the body is truly horrifying, most of which I don’t think I’ll be able to unsee. I think modern medicine has come a long way since the creation of some of these castings. Doctors can detect syphilis sooner and treat it easily with penicillin, so the symptoms are not as severe.
It is important that these skin diseases are still understood and studied, even though we use photographs instead of wax models, because there has been a rise of syphilis in the past two decades, specifically in women and congenital syphilis. The museum displayed the presence of congenital syphilis in babies, and it was very unfortunate. Testing for neurosyphilis can still be difficult, but doctors normally rely on the CSF Venereal Disease Research Laboratory with a higher titer cutoff to diagnose neurosyphilis (Chow, 2021). Without modern medicine and antibiotics, a lot more people would die from syphilis and neurosyphilis.
Chow F. (2021). Neurosyphilis. Continuum (Minneapolis, Minn.), 27(4), 1018–1039. https://doi.org/10.1212/CON.0000000000000982
On Friday, we ventured to Stade de France to enjoy a friendly game of rugby between France and Denmark. Although I did not purchase the fun rooster hat, France’s team mascot, I enjoyed trying it on and giving my peers a good laugh. We found our seats and immediately joined in on the cheering. We were tasked with counting the number of head impacts a specific rugby player endured during the match, as we had just learned about white matter abnormalities in rugby players due to head impacts. However, the game started, and we soon realized it was a soccer match between two of the best soccer teams in the world! Now, instead of counting head impacts, we counted headbutts. It was difficult to track a singular player, but as a team, France had over 10 headbutts! That is a lot of potential for mild traumatic brain injury!
The other day, our class visited a chocolate museum/ factory called Le muse gourmand du chocolat in the 10tharrondissement. The museum was in a very hip and up-and-coming neighborhood with lots of great restaurant options and young people. Upon entering the museum, the smell of chocolate flooded my senses and instantly made my mouth water. I couldn’t wait to make my own chocolate!
On our way down to the basement where the pastry chef was waiting for us, we saw beautiful and intricate sculptures made of chocolate, including the Eiffel Tower! I was very impressed and couldn’t wait to try out my hand at chocolate making and decorating. In the room, there was a large table with marshmallows, orange peels, and chocolate blocks for us to cover in chocolate and decorate. The pastry chef provided us with milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate — I liked the milk chocolate best! I enjoyed adding hazelnuts and coconut flakes to the chocolate dipped marshmallows. It was my first-time trying chocolate covered orange peels, as well, and I discovered that those are not my favorite.
We also made our own chocolate bars. The pastry chef taught us how to add designs to the chocolate bar by combining the different types of chocolate. My favorite design was the “latte art flower”. This was done by covering the mould in a singular type of chocolate, such as milk chocolate, and then a horizontal strip of a different type of chocolate was added to the middle of the mould. A toothpick was used to create an up and down swirl pattern, and once I got to the end, I dragged a straight line in the middle back to the beginning of the bar. The result can be seen in the picture below!
Not only was this a very fun experience, but I was also able to understand the cognitive and mood enhancing effects of chocolate firsthand! Many studies have been performed to look at the cognitive effects of chocolate, and when researching the topic, I came across an interesting study that used Steady State Probe Topography (SST), a technique I have not learned a lot about. This technique was used to evaluate neurocognitive changes in response to cocoa flavanols during a spatial working memory task. SST is associated with activity cortico-cortico and thalamo-cortical loops of the brain. The study found that there was a correlation between increased neural efficiency and the cocoa flavanol consumption in the spatial working memory task (Camfield et al., 2012).
Camfield, D. A., Scholey, A., Pipingas, A., Silberstein, R., Kras, M., Nolidin, K., Wesnes, K., Pase, M., & Stough, C. (2012). Steady state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) topography changes associated with cocoa flavanol consumption. Physiology & behavior, 105(4), 948–957. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.11.013
The other day, we went to a cheese tasting at Fromagerie Monbleu in the 9th Arrondissement. We had a wonderful hostess who provided fun and interactive activities beyond a simple cheese tasting: a cheese quiz, a blind taste testing, a blind drawing activity, and an identifying the cheese activity. It was interesting to try cheese made from cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk that originated from different parts of Europe. We learned that taste comes from sensors in the tongue, and flavor comes from sensors in the tongue and nose. This means taste and flavor involve different pathways within the brain, resulting in each cheese having a complex and unique profile.
A pleasant walk from the 11th Arrondissement to the 20th Arrondissement landed our NBB class at one of Paris’s most unique tourist attractions: Le Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise. Opened in 1804, it is the resting place of many famous people, such as Oscar Wilde, Eugene Delacroix, and Sarah Bernhardt. It attracts millions of visitors yearly, making it one of the most visited cemeteries in the world. Although I was skeptical of walking through a cemetery on a beautiful afternoon like today, it provided me and my fellow peers the perfect opportunity to explore and discover the hidden beauty of the cemetery.
Le Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise is not not only home to famous authors and actresses but also notable scientists. One famous scientist buried in this cemetery is Claude Bernard who made significant contributions to the field of neuroscience during the 19th century. Bernard was one of the first scientists to discover how the sympathetic nerve and chorda tympani are involved in vasoconstriction and vasodilation, respectively. Bernard also worked with antagonistic innervations and curare, a paralyzing agent, and found that it inhibits nerve stimulation of muscles, leading to research of asphyxia and anesthetics. Most importantly, his work with curare provided the basis of the neuron theory and laid the foundation for the future of neuroscience (Gomes & Engelhardt, 2014).
It is fascinating to learn about the history of neuroscience through the places we visit in Paris. I feel as if everywhere I look in Paris, there is a building or a monument or a statue that represents the history and culture of Paris. It is important to learn about scientists like Bernard because without him, the field of neuroscience would not be where it is today. Until Bernard’s research in the 1800’s, little was known about how the brain and muscles were connected. Now, there is technology such as the brain-machine interface that uses the electrical activity in the brain to guide a computer mouse or robotic limb.
Being able to see his place of burial puts into perspective how far neuroscience has come in the past 200 years. Bernard’s innovation at the time may have seemed preposterous, but with today’s discussion of head transplants in neuroethics, I’ve come to realize that no idea is ever too radical.
Gomes, M. D., & Engelhardt, E. (2014). Claude Bernard: Bicentenary of birth and his main contributions to neurology. Arquivos de neuro-psiquiatria, 72(4), 322-5. https://doi.org/10.1590/0004-282×20130239