New Images from Inside the Brain

Stanford University.

On Wednesday, scientists at Stanford Medical School released new images they’ve produced showing a slice of a mouse’s cerebral cortex. The images, captured using a technology called array tomography, show individual neurons and synapses. Synapses – which are less than a thousandth of a millimeter in diameter – allow brain cells to communicate with each other.

The idea, said Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford Medical School, is that one day scientists might be able to map the changes in individual synapses that occur when people, say, learn a new skill, or experience pain or disease.

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That’s a tall order, considering the number of synapses there are in a human brain. Smith says in the human cerebral cortex alone, there are 125 trillion synapses – as many stars as you’d find in 1,500 Milky Ways.

These images – set, in this video, to music composed by Smith’s daughter – are a step in that direction. Smith said the images “have revealed to me, in a way I wasn’t entirely prepared for, how incredibly beautiful the insides of the brain are.”

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