The Galleries Within

Peter Gearhart and William Nicholson
September 01, 1998
green cells on yellow background

The images you see here are hung in the galleries hidden within us all. As medical students we were privileged to learn about many details of the human body. In our first year of medical school we spent hundreds of hours learning about the intricacies at the cellular level. As we sat in the back of the lecture hall, we found ourselves marveling at the similarity between the images we were seeing and works of great masters we had seen in many of the art galleries we had visited. Some of our classmates will say that we were simply daydreaming and not really paying attention to the science we were being taught. But it was during these moments that we were gaining a true appreciation for the grandeur of the human body.

photo of yellow cells

The microscope is a powerful instrument that has allowed us to view the human body from a vantage few outside our profession are able to explore. The biomedical sciences encourage us to reduce the functioning of the body to its smallest parts in order to learn what mechanisms are responsible for normal actions and for disease. Through a dedicated investigation of the fascinating world at the cellular level, scientists have given us a greater understanding of the human form and function. But when we allow ourselves to step back from the science and simply gaze at the images framed by the microscope, we are struck with awe at their beauty.

Each of the photographs here was taken from healthy human tissue used for research and study in the laboratories and classrooms of Penn State's College of Medicine. These tissues were stained with chemicals that highlight certain elements in order for us to study their physiologic and anatomic features. This technical preparation of tissues not only reveals their function, but also captures the rich colors, shapes, and textures that give them their aesthetic splendor.

Most of us, when we walk through an art gallery, marvel at the beauty of the works of great masters displayed there. The brilliance of the contrasting colors, combined with the aesthetic balance of abstract forms, is breathtaking. Similarly, as we tour the "galleries" within our body with the microscope, we excitedly anticipate each new view created as the field of the microscope shifts or the slide upon its stand is changed.

yellow and black smudges

Peter A. Gearhart and William J. Nicholson received their M.D. degrees in May 1998 from Penn State's College of Medicine. Their photographs were exhibited at the Hershey Medical Center in 1997; the exhibit was made possible by a grant from The Doctors' Kienle Center for Humanistic Medicine in the college. Faculty advisers for the project included James O. Ballard, M.D., of the department of medicine, and Anne Hawkins, Ph.D., of the department of humanities in the College of Medicine.

Last Updated September 01, 1998