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Slide 229 is a coronal section, sometimes called a cross or transverse section, of the human brain. The stain shows axons (nerve fibers) in dark brown where they are densely packed. The lighter areas have fewer nerve fibers and more cell bodies.


Gift from Sanford Palay Will Help Teach Oberlin Students about the Brain

By Betty Gabrielli


Slide 27R, shown on the home page, is a saggital (longitudinal) section of the human brain.

More Brain Slides

APRIL 26, 1999--Oberlin students taking neuroscience classes will soon be able to examine neuronal pathways and cells of actual human brains in minute detail, thanks to a recent gift from internationally renowned neuroanatomist Sanford Palay, who graduated in Oberlin's Class of 1940.

Palay is among a small group of people credited with laying the framework for modern neurobiology, and his "superb electron micrographs have set a standard few others could attain," says Academic Medicine.

Palay also produced histological slides, containing thin slices of human brain tissue, for teaching. A few weeks ago the teaching slides arrived--in what can only be called extravagant numbers--in the Oberlin College laboratory of Mark Braford, professor of biology. The 1200 or so 6-by-8-inch glass sandwiches have a combined weight of about 1050 pounds. They are viewable through a light microscope or on a light table. Palay also sent photographic transparencies of many of the originals.

The slides, says Braford, who teaches in the neuroscience program, will help students "not only visualize the various brain components but also realize their size and positions in relation to other brain structures and understand how they interconnect with other areas.

"Students will be able to see, for example, neurons in the visual cortex and the large pathways that transmit information to them. Projecting the slide images in the lab will be a much more accurate and easy way to demonstrate the brain's structure than showing its components in a textbook or in drawings on the blackboard."

Before the slides can be used conveniently, Braford and his colleagues must catalog them and determine how to house them so they are easily available and adequately protected. Some slides were put to use already this semester, though, and Braford plans to show many in the fall, when he teaches neuroanatomy again.

Students in Braford's introductory and upper-level neuroanatomy courses will be the primary users of the slides, but students in other neuroscience classes, including courses recently created for nonmajors, also will be able to work with them.

"While the neuroscience program has built a solid collection of human materials since it began in 1972, Palay's gift more than doubles the amount of human material available for study," Braford estimates.

"We are very appreciative of Dr. Palay's generosity in donating this extensive collection of human brain sections to the program," says Jan Thornton, director of the neuroscience program. "The accumulation of a lifetime spent in neuroscience, the slides are a great legacy that will be used by Oberlin students for many years to come."

"As it is very unlikely that [the original slides] can ever be done again, they are a precious resource that should be conserved as if they were art objects from the Renaissance," wrote Palay in an April 2 letter to Braford.

"I am happy that this collection has found a home in Oberlin," Palay continued. "It should help to make the internal architecture of the brain real for students of neuroscience, and it should assist in recruiting at least a few neuroanatomists or dedicated neuroscientists among Oberlin graduates."

Palay has maintained his ties to the College in many ways. In 1989, he gave the science library current and back issues of several neuroscience journals, including 194 bound volumes and nearly 1000 unbound issues, among them the prestigious--and expensive--Brain Research, considered the neuroanatomists' bible. He also sent several monographs and provided a gift subscription to the Journal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry for many years. He returned to the campus in 1990 as a symposium speaker to celebrate the opening of Kettering's neuroscience wing.

Palay, 80, who lives in Concord, Massachusetts, received a B.A. degree in English from Oberlin in 1940 and an M.D. degree from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in 1943. While at Oberlin, he worked on the student newspaper and says his experience on the Review helped prepare him to assume the editorship of the Journal of Comparative Neurology in 1981.

Palay served on the faculties of Western Reserve and Yale universities. Before his appointment as Bullard Professor of Anatomy at Harvard's Medical School in 1961, he was section chief of neurocytology at the National Institute of Health. He is a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and an honorary member of the Royal Microscopic Society.





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