Research at Oxford has contributed key discoveries in our understanding of the anatomy of the brain and the nervous system.

In the seventeenth century Thomas Willis (1621–75) became celebrated for his dissections and detailed examinations of the brain, as well as his important description of the cranial and spinal nerves. Assisted by his contemporaries Christopher Wren and Richard Lower, he is chiefly remembered for his complete description of the arterial circle at the base of the brain (the ‘Circle of Willis’). He also coined the word ‘neurologie’ which first appeared in his book Cerebri anatome (Anatomy of the Brain) in 1664.

Willis’s dissection techniques have been superseded by imaging technology such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging – an Oxford invention – but constructing an atlas of the brain and mapping sensory and motor fields in the cortex continue to fascinate neuroscientists.


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