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Mind the Gap

Episode 7 of 10

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 15 November 2011

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

Episode 7: Mind the Gap, focuses on how the microscope allowed neurologists to detail the structure of brain cells. While Sigmund Freud, who started out as a neurologist, had hoped his gold chloride staining method would revolutionise brain research, it was in fact Camillo Golgi's La Reazione Nero, using silver nitrate, that enabled brain scientists to see the cell composition more clearly. Combined with the Gudden microtome, which provided extremely thin sections of brain tissue, neurologists began to explore how neurons are connected, with Charles Sherrington coining the term synapse to describe the gap between them.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the nerve cell or neuron. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

  • Presenter - Dr Geoff Bunn

    Presenter - Dr Geoff Bunn

  • Czech anatomist Jan Purkyne

    Czech anatomist Jan Purkyne

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

  • Italian doctor Camillo Golgi

    Italian doctor Camillo Golgi

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

  • Neuroglia of the grey central region

    Neuroglia of the grey central region

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

    Neuroglia of the grey central region and neighbouring portions of the white substance of the spinal marrow of a boy of eight days (method of Golgi)

    From Textura del sistema nervioso del hombre y de los vertebrados by Santiago Ramon y Cajal

  • Spanish doctor Santiago Ramon y Cajal

    Spanish doctor Santiago Ramon y Cajal

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

    Cajal shared the 1898 Nobel prize with Golgi

  • English neurologist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington

    English neurologist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

  • Science Explorer

    Science Explorer

    Explore the big ideas from A History of the Brain with the Science Explorer, featuring hundreds of programmes from the Radio 4 science archive

    Science Explorer - Dr Geoff Bunn


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