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A Window to Spermatogenesis

By William Wright

In 1968, after my freshman year of college, I sang my way across Europe with my college choir. One of the places I most remember was Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, especially the stained-glass rose window. You turn around, and there it is, an absolutely beautiful window. I was just struck by how gorgeous it is. It's very highly organized. But when you see it, you don't think about the blue piece of glass and the red piece of glass; you respond to all of the pieces together.

Many years later, when I was a new faculty member at Hopkins, I was preparing a lecture on the development of sperm. Sperm develop in stages in the seminiferous tubules of the testes. If you look at a cross section of the testes, you can see different levels of sperm development in different layers of the tissue. It's one of the most highly organized organs in the body, and male germ cell development only works because the tissue is organized.

I was trying to figure out how to convey to students the exquisite beauty of this system and to share the same emotional impact I had when I first saw the histology. And then I realized, when I look at the process of spermatogenesis, it reminds me of the rose window. It's the same beautiful organization. So I added a slide of the rose window to my lecture slides. I still include that slide in my talks.

If people take the time, there is a great deal of aesthetics to science.