Friday, December 12, 2008

Six Degrees of Charles Sherrington

Over Thanksgiving break I was watching Oliver Stone's epic "JFK" for the first time. I had no idea what a star-studded cast I was in for! Then I saw Kevin Bacon was in this movie and it really became obvious to me why Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon works so well.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a play on words for six degrees of separation. This phenomenon assumes that most every actor/tress can be linked through his or her film roles to the actor Kevin Bacon. This is really cool, for example, this is how John Wayne is related to Kevin Bacon:

sixdegrees.jpg


You can then get really fancy and describe and actor/tress using what is called their "Bacon Number". So for the example above, Kevin Bacon's number is "0" (duh), Eli Wallach's number is "1" having starred directly with Kevin Bacon, and John Wayne's number is "2" having never starred with Bacon directly.

A very similar situation exists in my little world of neuroscience. There was one researcher, Sir Charles Sherrington, who is known as the father of modern neuroscience and who trained a number of very prominent neuroscientists in their own right. Some of these trainees and visiting collaborators included Sir John Eccles, Ragnar Granit, Thomas Grahm Brown, and Derek Denny-Brown.

I thought it would be a cool idea to examine the Six Degrees of Charles Sherrington. Then in the middle of writing this post I stumbled upon a nifty website called NeuroTree.org. This is a family tree for neuroscientists where people are connected by mentorship and collaboration as opposed to blood relations. This website deserves an entirely separate review but the one feature I found was "Distance". I entered my name as Person 1 and Charles Sherrington as Person 2, clicked update and...

six degrees2.jpg


And my Sherrington number would be "6", six degrees of Charles Sherrington. If you are a neuro-geek like me go ahead and use the "Distance" feature to see how removed you are from the father of neuroscience!

1 comment:

Michael said...

Mike:
Love your play on six degrees of kevin bacon. I used to do the same when I was a grad student in the '90s. Here's my 6 degrees of Charles Sherrrington. Sherrington trained Eccles; Eccles collaborated with Lundberg; Lundberg trained Jankowska; Jankowska trained Dave McCrea; Dave McCrea trained me. My number is 5! I actully at one point worked directly with Jankowska, so if I'm greedy about it, my number is 4.

Michael Angel