This past weekend, Lauren and I visited the Catacombs – an underground storage of the many bodies that overflowed the French cemeteries and needed to be moved to prevent disease and make room within the cemeteries for the French population that needed ongoing space for those the passed away. Previous to the construction of the Catacombs, overflowing cemeteries and mass graves were spreading disease and causing preventable deaths among the living population. In order to address this issue, the Catacombs, underground tunnels originally dug to extract limestone used for many famous castles we still visit today, started to be carefully filled with bones in full cemeteries to create new spaces. Some of the bones in the Catacombs have been studied to tell us more scientifically of the medical state at that time – indicative of bone fractures and how they healed and attempts to determine cause of death.
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
This is a photo of me and my friends in the Loire Valley at the house of Leonardo Da Vinci. While Da Vinci has long been one of my favorite scientists and historical figures, seeing his work and life up close was inspiring. Especially with the knowledge that Da Vinci was a pioneering neuroanatomist, I was inspired by his work and even the slight opportunity to see into his mind. I have studied (in this program and outside of it) neuroanatomy that was first understood by Da Vinci, which was an incredible realization to have when standing in his workshop. I could tell just from looking at his sketches and models that he was on a higher level of creativity, invention, and innovation, and as an aspiring scientist, it was incredible to see.
This is a photo of me and a friend at the Gardens of Versailles (coincidentally, we went on the hottest day of the year, so please excuse any visible sweating). Typically, I associate Versailles, and most palaces, with art, history, and soft science. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that Louis XVI was actually quite dedicated to scientific pursuit and immersed himself in studies of physics and chemistry in his private libraries at Versailles! While I found no mention of neuroscience in my research on French royals and science, I can only imagine that the same basic types of discovery I engage in every day in my NBB classes were alive and well even in the days of Marie Antoinette.
This is the bakery I go to every morning before hopping on the Metro 1 line to go to school. The people here know me now, and they grab a pain au chocolat from the case right when I walk in. In a way, I would say that croissants (specifically ones from this bakery) have become my Paris comfort food. This feels funny to me, as the paper I presented in our NBB402W class was all about comfort food; having that context as I saw myself learning to reach for a pain au chocolate during every paper-writing session made me realize just how much I’ll miss my emotional support snacks when I go back home to the states. And I can tell you for a fact that understanding the neuroscience behind comfort and reward from food doesn’t make it any less effective!
This is a photo of me at the Eiffel Tower early in the program. We had gone to a farmers’ market by the Seine, and accidentally stumbled on this little street leading right up to the base of the tower. Something I never knew before this trip is that there are names of 72 scientists on the Eiffel Tower. This tribute to some of the most important scientific minds of France was incredible to see up close, and made the famous monument feel only that much more impactful. While I couldn’t find a neuroscientist specifically, it was incredible to see such a clear ode to scientific success. My one thought was that I didn’t notice any names of women in science, so I hope to see a monument with these names and figures in the future.
(caption: I found a childhood treasure, the PSP 3000.)
During the class visit to the Musee des Arts et Metiers, all of us were on the lookout for communication devices for an NBB 471 extra credit assignment. To reflect on my thoughts for that assignment, I noted how advances in technology have reflected a cultural desire for immediacy. This is a need that accompanies globalization and expansion as a way to remain connected (whether for business, social, or other motivations). Another reflection is found in contrast: current society values visual elements very highly whereas the early adoption of technologies prioritized functionality.
However, my favorite (sort of) communication device I found was the PSP 3000, my first personal gaming device–it is crazy to think that it is now a museum artifact! This device struck a beautiful balance between aesthetic and functional design. In relation to neuroscience, recent “video gaming studiesshowed beneficial effects on cognition and the brain”; it would have been helpful to present this to my parents years ago, but I doubt it would have changed their disapproval of video games.