Cocktails with Cajal

Cocktail Party Physics is running a series on neuroscience and the first article is a fantastic look at how legendary neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal laid the foundations for the modern understanding of neurobiology.

What I didn’t know, is that Cajal and Camillo Golgi, another great neuroscientist of the time with whom he shared the Nobel Prize, were rivals, and they often bickered in public and included jibes in their Nobel acceptance speeches!

The two men ended up sharing the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. It seems fair. After all, Golgi invented the staining technique used by Cajal to form his hypothesis, and used it to produce the first descriptions of the different types of neurons, and the structure of glial cells, as well as the branches given off by the axon. Also, there are those in the field who argue that if you take into account the later discovery of electrical synapses, Golgi was at least partially correct that the central nervous system is a vast interconnected network — it’s just not the cells themselves that are connected.

It made for an interesting pair of Nobel lectures, though: the two men contradicted each other in their talks, each espousing his own theory of the organization of the central nervous system. For all the intensity of their scientific disagreement, the two men nonetheless respected each other’s work. Writing about his Nobel honor, Cajal observed: “The other half was very justly adjudicated to the illustrious professor of Pavia, Camillo Golgi, the originator of the method with which I accomplished my most striking discoveries.”

Of course, if you do go to a cocktail party to discuss neuroscience, or even physics, don’t forget to experiment with your selective attention.

Link to article on Cajal and the history of neurobiology (via Neurophilo).

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