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Scientific Discovery Through Art

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Scientific Discovery Through Art

Before the advent of film and digital media, drawing was one of the primary methods for documenting newly discovered anatomical details.  In fact, many of the early scientific pioneers were also great artists, with Leonardo Da Vinci and Ramon y Cajal (father of neuroscience) being prime examples. Even today, when technology allows for an unprecedented capture of anatomical details, artistic renderings of human anatomy are still an important part of discovery, especially for newcomers to the field. The process of reproducing physical structures, whether in faithful or abstract form, enables a deeper look at the macro and microstructure than can be achieved by print or photographic media alone. 

To honor long-standing relationship between art and science, I host art competition as part of SLHS 2203, an undergraduate course on the anatomy and physiology of speech and hearing. Students are invited to submit artwork of any form for extra credit and the winner is selected by classroom vote.  The winning entries from 2015 and 2017 are featured above. Other notable entries include a 3D larynx made of candy,  a cross-stitched cochlea, and a diagram of the middle ear bones positioned to resemble yoga poses. 

Notable Artists in Neuroscience and Hearing Sciences

Santiago Ramon y Cajal:  Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1906, which he shared with Camillo Golgi, for his work to describe the microstructure of the nervous system.  His detailed drawings of neurons helped to define modern neuroscience, including the notion that the nervous system is comprised of individual contiguous cells. Selected drawings are on display at the NIH campus.

Peter Dallos:  A trailblazer in the molecular and cellular bases of mammalian hearing.  His work led to the discovery of prestin, a motor protein within outer hair cells that provides the somatic motor of the cochlear amplifier [link]

Arnold Starr:  Pioneer of the auditory brainstem response technique who was instrumental in defining auditory neuropathy, a neurological hearing disorder [link]


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