MONDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2015Time for another quick review – this time not neuropop but textbooks. Neuroscience Online is an open access neuroscience textbook and an initiative of the University of Texas Medical School. Its companion site, Neuroanatomy Online, contains virtual ‘labs’ that review major structural features of the nervous system. I found both sites by accident while doing some background research for this post; sharp-eyed readers may have noticed its description of the blood-brain barrier referenced at the end of the article.
The site content is pitched at undergraduate level, covering standard topics from basic cell biology through to sensory/motor systems and cortical functions. There are plenty of diagrams throughout, many of which are animated. Most of the animations are ‘click-though’ and simple enough not to be distracting while still being a useful study tool. If you feel especially keen after reading a chapter or two, the editors have put together a short anonymous survey to improve future editions. (Spoiler alert: I did the survey and it took less than 5 minutes.)
The site’s drawbacks are the same as those of any print textbook: it isn’t equipped to cover cutting-edge advances in the field (which really just means we need to keep reading the scientific literature). Neuroanatomy Online is also no substitute for wet lab work involving real specimens, as is the case for most virtual labs. As a companion to undergraduate labs or for anyone wanting to brush up on neuroanatomy terms, however, it’s excellent, particularly since it contains a good mixture of diagrams, images of intact specimens, and microscopy images.
Overall, both sites are straightforward to use and focus on quality of content. Most importantly, they don’t waste space or the reader’s time on interactive distractions, as many online study tools are guilty of doing. They would be useful for undergraduates wanting more revision material – each section of Neuroscience Online has its own set of ‘Test Yourself’ questions – or for researchers & students in other scientific fields wanting to learn the basics. Even, for that matter, anyone doing some fact checking or looking for clear explanations for important neuroscience concepts…including a writer for a certain neuroscience blog!
Ease of navigation: 5/5
Scientific content: 4/5
Last-minute revision tool? Definitely
Neuroscience Online main page: http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/
Neuroanatomy Online main page: http://nba.uth.tmc.edu/neuroanatomy/index.html