Anatomy word of the month: atlas

September 1, 2011 —

The atlas is the first, or top, vertebra of our bony spinal column supporting the “globe” of the head.  In Greek mythology, Atlas was one of the early gods, called the Titans.  Atlas warred against Zeus, King of the Olympian gods, and lost.  For his punishment, Atlas was condemned to bear the weight of the world and heavens upon his shoulders for eternity.

Book collections of maps frequently used the icon of Atlas bearing a globe upon his shoulders.  Over time, atlas came to refer to the book itself.  Eventually, atlas has come to refer to any collection of plates or figures devoted to a single topic such as a street atlas or an atlas of human anatomy.


Dr. Dyche was born in New Jersey and trained at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center before coming to Des Moines in 1976. Over 30 plus years he has taught gross anatomy, embryology and neuroanatomy. He also served in administration as associate dean for basic sciences, dean of the College of Health Sciences, and acting director of the PA program. He was one of the founding instructors of CPR and ACLS at a time when few medical schools offered this training. He retired to Oregon in 2008, then returned to DMU in 2009. Did he miss the tornadoes, the below zero wind chills or the cadavers?

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