Building a Peripheral Nervous System

*PNS and CNS 6

I love projects.

If I’m not working on a projects, I’m looking for a project. If there is no project on the horizon, I’m cranky and restless. This generally results in the inspiration and development of (wait for it…) a project!

I’m fascinated by the brain and the relationship between the brain and the body, specifically between the brain and movement. To better understand this relationship, I’m building a peripheral nervous system onto my skeleton, Shelley.

I’m at the beginning phase in which I’m still trying out different materials…

I like a fine gauge wrapped wire (possibly a 30 gauge – the packaging is missing) because it looks light and is easy to shape. It doesn’t like to be trimmed (the wrapping of the wire causes the coating to fray) and it doesn’t lend itself well to connecting separate strands – the same lightness makes it reluctant to hold when wrapping one strand to another.

I like the look of the light wire, so I added a 28 gauge wire to reinforce the connections (in “connections”, I’m referring to the branching in the nerves, so from here on I will use the term “branching”). It worked but it also seems to increase the fraying and each location where fibers join looks like a mess (although if you’ve ever seen a nervous system from a cadaver, it is kind of mess – no disrespect to this phenomenal system intended).

I’m also trying out a 24 gauge. It doesn’t have the shaping flexibility of the “30” wrapped wire, but it isn’t fraying. So far I’ve only used it to represent the Ulnar Nerve and the Median Nerve in the arm. The Ulnar Nerve is what you feel when you hit your “funny bone” and damage to the Median Nerve can result in carpal tunnel syndrome. These are relatively long nerves. There is branching in multiple locations, but for these I built the branching from the top down.

In other words I built the branching from C7 (cervical vertebra 7, the last of the cervical spinal vertebrae) and T1 (thoracic vertebra 1, the first of the thoracic spinal vertebrae). I used the “30” fine gauge for the 3 short branches (from the spinal vertebrae to just below the head of the humerus or upper arm bone) and the 24 gauge for the long branch to the ends of the fingers. The 24 gauge is more durable but the ends are sharper (hello work gloves) and it takes more time to shape the wire into the flowing look I want.


In the lower body…

I used the “30” gauge to represent the Sciatic Nerve running from L4 (it also branches from L5 and S1 through S4 – these branches are forthcoming). If you’ve ever had low back pain radiating down the back of your leg, you have some idea of the location of the Sciatic Nerve. From L4, L5, S1, S2, S3, and S4, it runs the length of the back of the leg and the length of the sole of the foot to the toes. Since I cheated (this was my first foray into nerves) and used a single piece of the wire, I didn’t have to manage any branching and fraying until I got to the toes.


The Sciatic Nerve has a yellow label in this photo.


As you can see in the photo, there are some loose, hanging wires in the center of the pelvis. One of those, the one passing through the obturator foramen (a circular opening in front of your “sitz bones”) and that is, interestingly, the Obturator Nerve (it splits into branches that innervate the adductor muscle group – the muscles that move your right leg in closer to your left leg and help you to cross one leg in front or behind the other)



Then there are the labels.

The Sciatic nerve is labelled with a conventional page label commonly found in office supply stores as well as drug stores and Targets and Walmarts. Since the adhesive on these labels is made primarily for paper, the label didn’t last long on the clothe-type material that covers the “30” gauge wire. Scotch brand makes masking tape in a variety of bright colors that are writable. I’ll be testing that out shortly.

Fine gold wire is not easy to photograph which gives me a project within a project (yea, I’m pretty happy!). The photos I’ve included are step one and two in this mini-project. Hopefully my ability to share clear photos will improve as Shelley’s nervous system fills out.

*This photo represents the entire nervous system; both central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system (43 pairs of nerves that connect the central nervous system to the body).

So what’s my intention in developing this project?

That’s for my next post!


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