Wednesday, January 28, 2015

That Crazy Cover!

What in the world is that crazy, brilliantly colored thing on the cover of Anatomy & Physiology supposed to be?!

At first glance, it may appear to be a work of abstract art.  However, it's an actual recorded image of some of the nerve pathways in the human brain.

Using some modern twists on the classic techniques of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), neuroscientists can isolate and color-code specific nerve pathways of the brain. The strategy used in our cover image is called diffusion MRI, of which there are several specific varieties. The Human Connectome Project (HCP) is now underway, identifying connections that were nearly impossible map until recently using diffusion MRI and other techniques.

Our cover image was made using a type of diffusion MRI called diffusion spectral imaging (DSI).  In this image, the red color codes for left-right fibers, green for anterior-posterior fibers, and blue for fibers that go through the brain stem.

There are several recent maps of brain connections used to illustrate concepts in the new edition of Anatomy & Physiology.  For example, on p. 455 there is such a map illustrating the concept of cerebral tracts.  On p. 469, another such map illustrates the damage that can occur in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a very dramatic and memorable way.

The primary reason we chose this type of image for the cover is that it's just really cool!  But it also serves as a symbol for the efforts we put into keeping pace with the latest efforts in human science—or at least those efforts significant to beginning learners in anatomy and physiology.

This odd, dramatic cover could be a great way to jump-start a discussion in your class about the progress of human basic sciences, of medical imaging, or a more specific discussion of neuroscience. You could point your students to the brief description of the image on the unnumbered page facing the full title page of the textbook (labeled ON THE COVER).

Or you could refer students to the website of the HGP at humanconnectomeproject.org or directly to the image gallery at humanconnectomeproject.org/gallery/  Challenge your students to find our cover image in that gallery!

If you want more information on how diffusion MRI works, and what DSI is, I recommend the article What's the Matter? at The Scientist magazine.


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