Happy Birthday to the Father of Modern Neuroscience, Who Wanted to Be an Artist

It took Santiago Ramón y Cajal quite a while to find his true calling in life. He tried his hand at cutting hair and at fixing shoes. As a boy in the mid-1800s, he planned for a career as an artist. But his father, an anatomy professor, shook his head and decided that young Ramón y Cajal would pursue medicine instead. The would-be artist went on to found the field of modern neuroscience, earning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along the way. Born May 1, 1852, in Spain, Ramón y Cajal would have celebrated his 151st birthday today.

Before he began to stand out as a researcher, Ramón y Cajal had been an anatomy school assistant, a museum director and a professor and director of Spain’s National Institute of Hygiene. His most important work did not begin until around 1887, when he moved to the University of Barcelona and began investigating all of the brain’s different cell types. He discovered the axonal growth cone, which control the sensory and motor functions of nerve cells, and the interstitial cell of Cajal (later named after him), a nerve cell found in the smooth lining of the intestine. Perhaps most significantly, he developed the “neuron doctrine,” which demonstrated that nerve cells were individual rather than continuous cellular structures. Researchers consider this discovery the foundation of modern neuroscience.

In 1906, the Nobel committee awarded Ramón y Cajal and an Italian colleague the prize in Physiology or Medicine ”in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system.”

While Ramón y Cajal may have changed neuroscience forever, he maintained his original childhood passion. Throughout his career, he never gave up his art. He sketched hundreds of medical illustrations, and some of his drawings of brain cells are still used in classrooms today. 

Images: 1. From “Structure of the Mammalian Retina” c.1900 By Santiago Ramon y Cajal.

              2. Drawing of Purkinje cells and granule cells from pigeon cerebellum by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1899

  1. friedenamour123 reblogged this from neuromorphogenesis
  2. crudite reblogged this from hicockalorum
  3. ecologistan reblogged this from mimeit
  4. mollypupa reblogged this from scientificillustration
  5. iwillharpoonyou reblogged this from hicockalorum
  6. allgirlsarerealtoo reblogged this from ambiguations
  7. notokaytrustme reblogged this from ambiguations
  8. ambiguations reblogged this from urbsarch
  9. zorrichuelis reblogged this from scientificillustration
  10. pedagogy-of-images reblogged this from neuromorphogenesis
  11. muelis reblogged this from urbsarch
  12. glasseyedspacer reblogged this from taiphannybiscuit
  13. taiphannybiscuit reblogged this from sacredmotherearth
  14. lagendarylugia reblogged this from neuromorphogenesis
  15. sacredmotherearth reblogged this from neuromorphogenesis
  16. gazolli reblogged this from scientificillustration
  17. ifeelsicktomystomachh reblogged this from infinitaentropia
  18. urbsarch reblogged this from molecularlifesciences
  19. wombatflat reblogged this from hicockalorum
  20. hicockalorum reblogged this from scientificillustration
  21. m0nsterbones reblogged this from scientificillustration