Prehistory of Axonology

Long time visitors to Axonology will be wondering where all the neuroscience research has gone. Newer visitors will be wondering what does ‘axonology’ actually mean? And why are there all these cartoon nerve cells everywhere? Pull up a log by the campfire and settle down to hear all about the murky origins of Axonology…

Axonology.com began in 2013 when I decided to share my research with the big wide world. I’d been running a science outreach program for several years and was named an inaugural Public Engagement Champion by the university I was working at. Part of the training and support that came with the role was input from experts in science communication to help us well-meaning geeks understand how to develop more effective dialogues with different publics. One suggestion was to embrace social media which was really taking off in the early part of the decade and that meant finding a Twitter handle. I’d learnt some HTML as a post-doc 10 years previously to help build a lab webpage so the time seemed ripe to choose an online identity. My first thought was axonguidance.com although at the time that was taken. It also felt too niche. Ironic, I know, given some of the cartoons I’ve posted here! I’ve always had a broader interest in science than being tied to one specific field and have little patience with people who try and put researchers into pigeonholes. I don’t remember how axonology came to me but it felt a good compromise. Axons and their growth cones were always central to my research but turning it into a made up discipline (as I thought) gave it a slight parody nature that would fit with the cartoons and other broader content I planned to include.

A sense of wonder at the nervous system

A golden rule I tell all my students when they are planning some new resource is to make sure someone hasn’t already done it. Usually, if you Google it, someone, somewhere has got there first. On the plus side, you can console yourself that suggests it might actually be a useful idea before you set about tweaking it to make it original. A brief internet search and – more importantly – a domain name search turned up nothing so axonology.com and @axonology were born! Of course had I looked more carefully I would have discovered that the original ‘Axonologists’ were a group of neurophysiologists who met at Washington University for a while around 1930, led by Nobel Prize Laureates Joseph Erlanger and Herbert Spencer Gasser. Huge footsteps to follow in but my whole research career and many of my cartoons stem from a sense of wonder at the nervous system; I’d like to think that is one thing I have in common with them.

I did manage to find my bit of internet originality, my account of the Cornish educational philosophy of Wazzochism was a Googlewhack when it first appeared. Until I linked to it…