More Green Lake Morphology with John Sundsten Ph.D.


Happily we return now with more landscapes by our friend the distinguished morphologist John Sundsten. This time he mixes Green Lake scenes with an example or two from his midbrain research as an Emeritus Assoc. Prof in the Department of Biological Structure at the University of Washington (We write it out for those reading this in Wisconsin.) As he explains in his brief and poetic introduction, John frequently walks the circle around Green Lake here in Seattle. Although he is older than I, he is Finnish and so both in fine shape and generally better looking than the rest of us over seventy. Ask any Italian and they will tell you that the Finno-Ugrics are generally the handsomest people on the globe, and the Fins return those sentiments with a strong attraction to Italians. At the bottom of this montage of John’s photographs, we have included one of his cross-sections of the midbrain, for which John offers a helpful analogy, that Jean has illustrated this lovely fall Sunday afternoon from the 45th Street I-5 Overpass.

Two examples of inspiring Green Lake morphology
Two examples of inspiring Green Lake morphology
When John Sundsten sees ducks in a row or two rows he also sees patterns of synapses and sub-arachnoid spaces filled with gray and white matter in great splendor.
When John Sundsten sees ducks in a row or two rows he also sees patterns of synapses and sub-arachnoid spaces filled with gray and white matter in great splendor.

Here follows John’s introduction, followed by more examples from his Green Lake walks and concluded with a slice of his research.

These views around Green Lake were made in the last couple of months or so (August-November). In my more or less daily walks around Green Lake there are always new things appearing to me, whether clusters or mounds of landscaped trees, or loner trees angled in strange ways, or unusual unnamed trees, or treetops against an endless sky, or tree branches arching into space, or tree bark crackling or peeling or canyoned, or stones left as solid reminders, or changing foliage moving in slow time, or long views of the other side mirrored in the water,  or lazy-sometimes-busy birds eating or claiming rights, or lakeside details of ferns and other growing things crowding each other. And every day it is different in color and tone, with unknown expectations like the initial wonder in a love affair.

[Remember – CLICK to enlarge.]

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The above is a transverse cross section (imagine one of a stack of poker chips) through a part of the human brain called the midbrain. The neuron cell bodies are stained a cresyl violet color. Unstained (more or less) zones are where the nerve fibers (axons) are packed together. The polygons encircle various neuron components found at this level. The midbrain does many things but perhaps most important is that it is essential for the maintenance of consciousness. One of the other things it does is to regulate  movement (along with many other structures). Note the very dense accumulation of stained neurons at the bottom of the figure. Some of these form the Substantia Nigra, which cells project to basal ganglia in the forebrain. When no longer functioning properly (a loss of a neurotransmitter, dopamine),  Parkinson’s disease results. Most of the non-staining regions are axons packed together, traveling through to other destinations. Imagine you are on the overpass at 45th and I-5, and you are looking through this section of the brain. The nerve tracts are like the freeway traffic; a lot of it is going to Everett (the forebrain) and a lot is going to Tacoma (the pons, medulla and spinal cord).

Below and by way of analogy only is 1-5 looking south from the 45th Street overpass on Sunday Nov. 15, 2009.  (by Jean Sherrard)


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