Neurogenesis– the creation of new neurons in the brain– was conventionally believed to only occur in the growing brains of infants and children. In the 1960s, data started appearing that showed the birth of new neurons in adult, fully formed brains. Now, 40 years later, adult neurogenesis is one of the more robust fields of study in the neurosciences.
Jason Snyder studies adult neurogenesis in Heather Cameron’s lab at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD. Snyder’s research focuses on neurogenesis in the hippocampus, highlighting the role of these new neurons in such fundamental behaviors as memory formation and learning.
In his earlier days, Snyder was a student of electrophysiological techniques for studying the brain, and admired the simple, elegant aesthetic of the technology: “I remember pasting a voltage waveform on my bedroom wall because…those curves were beautiful!”
He has a sharp eye for the compelling, unusual forms of brain tissue and uses a beautiful array of staining techniques to highlight young neurons and answer questions relating to neurophysiological results of neurogenesis.
In deciding how to crop these images and which colors to use to visually distinguish certain cells from the surrounding chaos of brain tissue, Snyder’s work toes the line between a hard science goal with great explanatory value and a more artistic mentality in the science’s visual presentation. The art and science go together: a stunning visual can make for a stunning revelation about the structure and function of cells and regions of the brain, and can emotionally move us with its sheer beauty, perhaps steering us towards a lifetime of studying the brain.