Arts, Anatomy, Leonardo and Queen

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen – Leonardo da Vinci.

This post is the conclusion of my overseas journey during the summer of 2019 with a team of anatomists and physiologists, professors, and medical professionals. I went to get a taste of London, Paris, and Amsterdam from an anatomical artist’s perspective rather than as a tourist. If you missed my first post with details about the Apothecary Museum and Gordon Museum of Pathology at King’s College, start here!

Before we traveled, the part of the itinerary which attracted me most was the visit to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. Leonardo da Vinci’s original art, part of the Royal Collection, was on display there to mark the 500 year anniversary of his death. Most people know Leonardo as one of the greatest artists of all time; as an anatomist I know him as a great scientist and designer whose creations from 500 years back will still awe a scientist of the modern era.

Though Leonardo’s drawing of Vitruvian Man in the Renaissance Era was well-known for his concept of symmetry in humans and nature, most of Leonardo’s anatomical sketches remain unnoticed and unappreciated. Frustrated, Leonardo never published those masterpieces of anatomy-oriented art. 

Entrance to Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, London
Introduction to the exhibition at the Gallery Hall
Introduction to the exhibition at the Gallery Hall 

His original art was acquired by the Queen of England and was displayed for the public, and I think we are fortunate to get the opportunity to see the original drawings of Leonardo. Two hundred of his original pictures were on display which included the bulk of his anatomical sketches which I was waiting eagerly to see. It was indeed a great idea by Dr. Petti to design his study abroad course around the time of the exhibition.  It was amazing to see how Leonardo’s curious mind unveiled minute anatomical details. 

Leonardo’s passion led him to perfectly portray the intricate complexities of human anatomy. All the red walls with these paintings and sketches attracted our group members like magnets and the same thought came over and over, that this will be truly a lifetime memory to cherish forever. There were sketches of horses, a human skeleton, a human heart, and the list could go on and on.

We stopped at one corner, where we saw a framed piece, but there was nothing on that piece of paper (see below). A mystery no doubt! That paper which apparently looked like everything was washed out to the naked eye under normal light showed amazing details when exposed to high-energy fluorescent rays and we came to know about an amazing technique. 

Adoration of Magi - Picture framed on left apparently invisible in normal light; on right - Sketches revealed with Fluorescent technology.
Adoration of Magi – Picture framed on left apparently invisible in normal light
On right – Sketches revealed with fluorescent technology

That framed blank picture was from the Adoration of Magi series by Leonardo. He used a pen with a stylus made of copper and over the period the metallic copper chemically changed to copper salt with exposure to air showing no marks. When exposed to high-energy fluorescent rays, energy rays were absorbed by the paper and revealed the sketches with amazing details once drawn by Leonardo, and the mystery was solved too!

For thousands of years, humans showed advancement in designing sophisticated tools which is a reflection of higher brain function. Recent use of imaging techniques like MRI not only mark advancements as one of the most important diagnostic tools in different medical fields, but certain imaging techniques are now helping us to unveil the past. One such modern use of contrivance is C14 and potassium 40 dating for fossils and rocks to determine their age. Carbon dating has been known for years, but when it comes to the handwritings or sketches as mentioned above, luminescence technique using UV rays provides some hidden facts.

More information about the display and other technology used to create and decode Leonardo’s art can be found here

Every corridor, every room of the gallery displayed an extravaganza of artistic expression and anatomical excitement and I left wondering how advanced a person could be for his time to create all those beautiful artworks which paved the foundation of the knowledge of human anatomy almost 500 years back.

Leonard’s anatomical sketches
Leonardo’s anatomical sketches

Author bio: Dr. Soma Mukhopadhyay did her Masters in Zoology and her Ph.D. in Nuclear Medicine in Calcutta, India, and subsequently did postdoctoral research in Cellular Physiology at the College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati. She is a Lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences, Augusta University, and has also taught at Pennsylvania State University, University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, University of South Carolina. Her areas of research are cardiovascular physiology and molecular evolution as it relates to human anatomy & physiology. Her passions are music, art, and photography.

Arts, Anatomy and Medicine Part 1

“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

         But being too happy in thine happiness, —

        That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

                        In some melodious plot

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease. ”

Decades back, as a part of my school curriculum in India, I was introduced to this poem, “Ode to a Nightingale,” written by the famous British poet John Keats. Although I couldn’t have predicted it at the time, I would eventually get to learn about Keats on a hot summer day in London, almost 200 years after his death. Besides this “reunion” with Keats, the summer of 2019 brought me many exciting experiences.  It was truly like a fantasy world for people passionate about anatomy.               

Travel always plays an important role for enlightenment and cultural exchange. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.” Over the years, I passed through London Heathrow Airport several times, but never had the chance to visit the city of London. Then, all of a sudden, I got a unique opportunity to visit London and two other great cities of Europe as a participant in an Art and Anatomy program led by the great anatomy professor Kevin Petti.  This was not just a tourist visit; this was a Leonardo-inspired journey. Though on my way I was humming “London Bridge is falling down,” I was the one falling down with excitement during my visit to London — along with twenty-two other anatomists and physiologists, professors and medical professionals.                                                                                                                        

Soma 1 Tower bridge
A view of Tower Bridge

Our journey was full of surprises. Our first visit was to the Apothecary Museum, where I discovered for the first time that John Keats was an Apothecary by training from Guy’s College at King’s College, as well as a poet by passion.  The word apothecary means “store house” according to its Greek and Latin roots, but it has come to mean “pharmacist,” a profession that has led to the general medical practitioners of today.

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Apothecary Museum at London

King’s College is a prestigious institution in London which is the home of 22 Nobel Laureates, but I approached it with mixed feelings. After all, Rosalind Franklin’s Photo 51 was taken at King’s College, then taken by others without her knowledge. But when we entered the Gordon Museum of Pathology at King’s College, my ambivalence vanished, and I was able to appreciate one of the world’s largest museums of pathology, which houses 8000 pathological specimens from the last few hundred years. In addition to these specimens, the Gordon Museum also houses Joseph Towne’s 19th-century anatomical wax models, which include unimaginable and incredible details of structures like blood vessels and muscles.

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Art and Anatomy 2019 Group at Gordon Museum of Pathology with Dr Kevin Petti. Taking pictures of specimens are not allowed in the museum.
(Photo credit: Museum staff)

Before we were about to depart, Dr. Edwards, the Curator of the Gordon Museum of pathology, took us to meet Mr. Alan Billis, the 21st century mummy. This is another experimental success and milestone in modern science to understand the process of mummification that had been discovered centuries ago. Following the wish of Taxi Driver Mr Billis, who died of lung cancer, his body was the first mummified after almost 5000 years in the same way as the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. It was an incredible feeling to realize again how advanced ancient civilizations were like Egyptians in their knowledge of chemistry to perform the process of mummification thousands of years back to preserve the bodies.

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From left Dr. Kevin Petti, Dr. Roberta Ballestriero, Dr. William (Bill) Edwards and Me. (Photo credit: Laura Bianconcini)

If you want to know more about Art, Anatomy and London, stay tuned for my next blog post.

(Note: Pictures in this blog are taken by by the author unless otherwise mentioned.)  

Dr. Soma Mukhopadhyay did her Masters in Zoology and her Ph.D. in Nuclear Medicine in Calcutta, India, and subsequently did postdoctoral research in Cellular Physiology at the College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati. She is a Lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences, Augusta University, and has also taught at Pennsylvania State University, University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, University of South Carolina. Her areas of research are cardiovascular physiology and molecular evolution as it relates to human anatomy & physiology. Her passions are music, art, and photography.


How the Grinch Taught Dissection

I hated pep-rallies in high school and I have always struggled with having a sense of team spirit. In fact, at Christmas time I find that I tend to have more in common with the Grinch than Old Saint Nick, so the fact that I find myself excited enough to write a blog about something is not only out of the ordinary, it’s stranger than green eggs and ham!

As one can imagine, I have surprised myself over the last four years at how I have become such an advocate (dare I say cheerleader) for the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society with both university administration and my fellow anatomy colleagues. It has been exciting to interact with the diverse population of individuals who teach A&P. Our educational backgrounds vary just as much as our personalities and teaching styles. In contrast to other professional organizations that I participate in, I have found that HAPS creates a uniquely inclusive environment in which professionals from a range of institutions and at all stages of their career can share their ideas and learn from conference speakers, workshops, and online forums. Furthermore, like the Grinch, I find my heart growing three sizes when I think of how our leadership team is constantly looking for new ways to work with the different HAPS committees in order to find how we can help one another become better scientists and educators.

With the intention to assist with this initiative, the HAPS Cadaver Use Committee has recognized a problem faced by a significant population of HAPS members. We have found that many of our members have very little or sometimes no cadaver dissection experience. In response to the perceived need and interest amongst the HAPS membership, the Cadaver Use Committee is developing a human cadaver dissection mentorship program. Specifically, we are soliciting member interest and need for this program. Additionally, we are looking to identify individuals that can serve as mentors. The role of the mentor will be better defined as we continue to collect information from HAPS members through virtual town-hall meetings and a survey to determine interest by location, limiting factors, cost, and the type of mentorship relationship that will provide the most value added for participants. Long-term, we would like this dissection mentorship program to fulfill the pillars of a faculty’s academic career. Our goal is to develop a mentorship program that will not only enrich the quality of teaching, but also bolster faculty promotion, tenure, and service.

With all that being said, I would like to say I am grateful for HAPS and proud of this initiative. I am excited to share my lab and my dissection experience with my colleagues. I may not be ready to hold hands and sing “Welcome Christmas” with all the Who’s in Whoville, but I can’t wait to hear from others in my region and the greater HAPS community and learn what they think about our new program and how they might like to participate. Please pay special attention to any upcoming emails regarding the human dissection mentorship program.  We would love to hear from you at any of our upcoming town hall meetings or surveys!

Kelsey Stevens Image

Kelsey Stevens is the Anatomy Lab Manager and an Instructor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions. Her specialties include Human Anatomy, Physiology, and Embryology.  She has been a member of the HAPS Cadaver Use Committee since 2016.


My Sparkly Pancreas

At the annual HAPS meeting in 2018, I sat with a lovely group of HAPSters over dinner. The topic of mindfulness came up and we each agreed how important it was for us and for our students.

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Going out on a limb, I divulged my personal practice of mindfully exercising. “I battle cancer cells, I eliminate plaque from my arteries, and I always make my pancreas sparkle.” They all looked at me and smiled. A beat of silence. “Did I just disclose my super weirdness?”  I thought.

“How sparkly is your pancreas?” said the head of the HAPS cadaver-use committee.

“Well, if I’m ever your specimen, wear sunglasses. I’m that bright inside,” I joked.

When I exercise, I think about human anatomy and physiology and mindfully review each system of my body. I eradicate perceived (or worrisome) anatomic or physiological problems by picturing that system of my body in its most perfect form. If I’m feeling tense in an area, I send extra focus there. I may walk out of an exercise class looking sweaty and exhausted, but inside, I know I have just activated mechanisms in my body toward health, and mentally that makes me feel invigorated. That energy is then carried with me to the classroom where it gets translated into helping students.

b handstand long beach 14

Current literature* is chock-full of studies on how mindfulness can positively affect a plethora of anatomical and physiological maladies. When I feel a high amount of tension/anxiety in the air in my A&P lectures, I take the opportunity to ask if anyone has ever meditated. We talk about the many benefits from decreased anxiety to neurogenesis. With the anxiety level of our students on the rise, it is my hope that in addition to teaching a strong knowledge base, we can also help students by sharing personal stories of how we cope in our lives.

I share my sparkly pancreas story with students when we talk about diabetes, which runs in my family. Each of us should consider finding a mindfulness practice that works for us. For students, I often recommend meditation as a place to start.

We all know how important genetics, good nutrition, and exercise are for our health. Incorporating mindfulness in the form of meditation can profoundly affect the performance of students and be a coping tool they can use for a lifetime. The personal mindfulness practice I use while exercising helps me to see myself as a healthy, radiant being ready to be the best A&P professor I can be.

*some recent studies that highlight the promising effects of mindfulness practices on health:
Cardiovascular and renal effects
Yoga and stress
Meditating medical students


Bridgit Goldman has been teaching college-level biology since 1998.  She has a Ph.D. in Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology from The Graduate School and University Center of The City University of New York. Since 2007 she has designed, developed and taught all the lecture and laboratory classes in Human Anatomy and Physiology at Siena College in Loudonville, NY.

An anatomy adventure in Paris

While on a family trip to France in the summer of 2017, I discovered the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy in the Jardins des Plantes of Paris. Part of France’s National Museum of Natural History, it is a hanger-like building, crammed with over 1,000 reconstructed animal skeletons, and lined with cabinets of preserved soft tissue specimens. Jars of brains, stomachs, and other viscera were arranged to allow the ready comparison of anatomical features. Although I’m a clinical anatomist, it was difficult to tear myself away from this comparative anatomy.  Of the seven days we spent in Paris, I devoted two days to the exhibits, and still was able to absorb only a small fraction of them. Not only was the space beautiful and awe-inspiring, but the weight of history was palpable. After all, much of this collection was assembled and studied by Cuvier himself. Needless to say, I was in anatomy heaven!

Georges Cuvier is considered by some to be the “father of paleontology”. His work as a comparative anatomist eventually led to the acceptance of extinction as a phenomenon.  Due to religious doctrine, there was quite a bit of resistance to the idea that some animals were no longer found on Earth, and (the story goes) that Cuvier’s detailed analysis of mammoth and elephant mandibles definitively proved that elephants weren’t simply evolved mammoths.  I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised, and perhaps personally validated by the importance that anatomy knowledge and careful observation played in Cuvier’s success story. As someone who is deeply interested in the study of anatomy, I like to stress to my students that the analysis of form can provide a wealth of knowledge, and Cuvier’s evidence which helped lead to academic acceptance of extinction is an example I have used to illustrate this.



The Hall of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology is easy to find within the National Museum. It is located in the Fifth Arrondisement with easy access from the Jussieu metro stop.  The building was constructed in preparation for the 1900 world fair, and has lovely architectural details, but insufficient air conditioning! If you plan to visit in the summer like I did, be sure to go as early as possible, as the heat can be stifling. In fact, the Hall of Paleontology on the second floor is often closed for excessive heat!  If you find yourself in Paris, be sure to carve out some time to explore this delightful museum.

Melissa Clouse received her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Berea College (Berea, KY) and spent five years as an officer in the United States Air Force, in a career field that had absolutely nothing to do with biology.  She received her Master’s of Science in Clinical Anatomy from Creighton University (Omaha, NE) and spent five years conducting research in the characteristics of intranasal prion infection. She is now an instructor and advisor at Doane University (Crete, NE), where she teaches human anatomy and cadaver dissection and serves as the Director of Pre-Health Programs.


Pre-Med Summer Camp for Middle Schoolers… Third Time is the Charm!

Dani 3

For the last three summers, I have been developing and hosting a summer camp for middle school kids about medicine. They are doctors for the week, solving medical mysteries, learning about diseases, and diagnosing patients, all while learning basic anatomy and physiology. Many of the activities that I created for the kids are watered down (or not so watered down) versions of the lab activities our undergraduate students do. So far, we have concluded that the kids LOVE it, and it is only getting better with time.

The first time I ran this camp it was a bit… chaotic behind the scenes. The second time was a little less so, and this third time was smooth sailing. If I could write a letter to myself three years ago, there would be some important pieces of advice I would want to know. Since time travel is still ahead of us I thought I would share these little pieces of wisdom. Hopefully I can help someone out there in the HAPS universe that is thinking of starting a camp for kids!

Dani 2

First, do not underestimate how excited the kids are to be in this camp. There is very little you could do to squish that enthusiasm out of them! So do not feel that you need to razzle dazzle them with these huge experiments for each activity. One simple activity I designed is called “Making Poop.” Campers use saltine crackers, a plastic sandwich bag, and different colored water (the digestive enzymes!) to act out how your body digests and breaks down food. At the end,  we have poop! Very basic, and the overall cost is pennies per camper. I designed this activity for our smallest campers, those entering 5thgrade in the new year. The older campers got much more advanced activities that had them working with real biomolecules, chemicals, and enzymes to learn how starch, lipids, and proteins are broken down. I heard such a fuss at the end of the day because my older campers (those entering 7thand 8thgrade) did not get to “make poop”.

Second, organization is key. During the first summer, my office looked like a cross between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and a paper supply store! It was a nightmare. This year I used big brown envelopes from our department’s mail room to sort and organize all the handouts that I had created for the campers. Then, each handout envelope was placed in the large plastic tub that stored the materials for each day’s activities. Taking the time a few days to a week before camp and sorting the materials and handouts by the day made things so simple.

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Last, science is an explorative field, and to truly appreciate this can take time. Rushing the kids through a dozen activities may feel like they are getting a lot out of the day, but watching them take their time on fewer activities and uncovering their interests is far better. I want to help them develop that curiosity for science and the bits and pieces going on inside of their own bodies. The bonus is that you don’t have to write a dozen activities for each day, so that’s a win-win.

You can check out the YouTube video of this year’s camp here:



Dani Waters is a first year PhD student in Educational Psychology at Penn State University. She has a M.S. in Biology where she focused on anatomy and physiology content. Dani teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology at Penn State University.