Posted in biology, chemistry, medical imaging

Brain slices

I am amazed how often people use the title of my blog, or something very similar to it, to describe what they’re doing. Take this post on Discover Magazine about slicing up brains:

H. M.’s brain sits in its purpose-built mold, which will be filled with liquid gelatin and set in a vacuum chamber.

There is an art to removing the brain from a human cadaver. The donor should be lying faceup, and you should stand just behind the crown of the head. Carefully cut through the skin to expose the skull. Using a neurosurgery drill with a guard plate, cut the bone all the way around the head, above the ears. (It might help to pretend you are a barber giving a monk his tonsure.) This process, called fenestration, is more precise than using a saw. Out of respect for the donor, you do not want to damage the brain.

Such is the art practiced by Jacopo Annese, a neuroanatomist at the University of California at San Diego. Annese is one of the world’s few experts in dissecting and slicing entire human brains; he has been practicing this craft since 1994. His dream is to create the world’s most complete open-access neuroanatomy library, featuring high-resolution digital images of whole human brain slices. Because of his expertise and this ambition, Annese was chosen by a group of researchers to cut, archive, and curate the most famous brain in neuroscience, that of Henry Molaison—better known to students and researchers worldwide as the legendary amnesiac patient “H. M.”

This article is a sample from DISCOVER’s special Brain issue, available only on newsstands through June 28. Read the original post



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.