- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Gray matter certainly matters to all mammals, as they use it to process complex functions such as bodily activity, thinking and reacting to stimuli. The brain comes in all shapes and sizes, and a trio of prestigious research facilities have joined to offer the most revealing place I have seen on the Internet to learn about the brain. An incredible selection of images highlights its diversity and explains the importance of studying its anatomy.

Comparative Mammalian Brain Collections

Site address: https://brainmuseum.org/

Creator: Wally Welker, the curator of the brain collection at the Department of Neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, developed the site with additional specimen and content help from the Michigan State Comparative Mammalian Brain Collection and the National Museum of Health and Medicine in the District.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to acquaint people with the internal architecture of the brain,” Mr. Welker says. “Many people have seen a brain, but it holds no meaning. We wanted to make it clear that all that we do, think and feel originates through the several hundred types of interconnected cells that make up the most important part of a mammal’s nervous system.”

Word from the Webwise: This voluminous online collection gives amateur biologists and neurophysiologists a peek at images and information from one of the world’s largest sources of preserved, sectioned and stained mammal brains.

Curious visitors will find photographs of brains from more than 175 species of mammals representing 17 mammalian orders, including specimens from humans, chimpanzees, monkeys, the big brown bat, Wisconsin badger, North American raccoon, polar bear, zebra, large Madagascar hedgehog and the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.

The opening page features a slide-show-type graphic of brains flashing across the page like a scene out of the 1950s sci-fi horror film “Fiend Without a Face.” Clicking on the List of Specimens section and the Simple Linear List link will take the visitor to a taxonomic catalog of brains available for viewing.

After reading about the order to which a particular specimen belongs, visitors can click on a species name to see a page containing a photo of the animal; a map showing where the animal lives; numerous photographed perspectives of the brain, including colored sections; and occasionally video clips to rotate a complete specimen or see its sections. Other educational material on the site includes illustrated pages on brain architecture, its functions, development and evolution.

Ease of use: Other than the use of the Quicktime plug-in, the site should run on all current browsers and a wide range of connection speeds. The site’s designers, however, need to take a look at some of the links, which may frustrate some visitors because of incorrect path names.

Don’t miss: An entire minisite titled the Brain of the Florida Manatee has been devoted to the creature with a neural controller the size of a softball. Nine specimens were examined and dissected to offer a comprehensive overview of the manatee’s internal brain structures, including details on the complexity, size and spatial distribution of its cellular groups and fiber tracts. In addition to more than 20 photographs of its brain, visitors will find information on the manatee’s behavior and life cycle, specialized body features and its evolution.

Elements on the horizon: Visitors should look for many more pictures of brains along with more rotation animations and slide-show sectioning presentations.

Comprehension level: Mr. Welker developed the site to meet what he thought were the topic’s basic educational requirements, and he has received positive feedback from grade school children as well as professionals.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the science or technology fan? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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