History of the Brain Collections

The Department of Physiology (formerly the Department of Neurophysiology) at the University of Wisconsin maintained the bulk of the Comparative Mammalian Brain Collection until the fall of 2007. The collection was started in the 1950's by Dr. Clinton Woolsey. When the late Clinton Woolsey (1904-1993) came from Johns Hopkins to start brain research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, soon after the Second World War (he was the founder of the Laboratory, and later the Department, of Neurophysiology at Wisconsin), he brought with him not only a strong and extensive interest in the comparative anatomy of mammalian brains, but also the beginnings of what has become one of the premier collections of its kind anywhere in the world.

Dr. Konrad Akert played a role in standardizing techniques of perfusion and histological processing and protocol keeping in the early years. The brain collection was increased and diversified by Wally Welker and colleagues over the next 4 decades. During this period, a large number of faculty and students carried out comparative neurophysiological and neuroanatomical analyses in a variety of mammals.

Many of these studies were initiated because of the special behavioral repertory of the different animals studied. Dr. John I. Johnson joined these investigators for postdoctoral training. By the time Dr. Johnson arrived, in 1960, Dr. Welker, a member of the Wisconsin faculty, had begun formal collection of brain specimens with 5-year support from the National Institutes of Health for "Comparative study of brain morphology in mammals."

With the advice of Konrad Akert and Jerzy Rose at Wisconsin, together with the collaboration of numerous students and colleagues, we assembled brains from a wide variety of mammals from a representative variety of Mammalian Orders; specimens that were perfused and prepared by standardized histologically procedures in ways that would provide neuroanatomical study materials for many generations of comparative neuroanatomists. I worked together on these comparative projects with Jack Johnson over the last several decades and we both worked together with Jon Kaas, John Allman, Mike Merzenich, and many others over this time span. The neuroanatomical material we assembled was transported, and is now curated and maintained at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D. C. under the supervision of the Museums Director, Adrianne Noe and Curator, Archie Fobbs, and is made widely available for study there by students and researchers worldwide.


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