Wednesday, 27 October 2010


It's time for this month's Accretionary Wedge, hosted by Matt at Research At A Snail's Pace. The theme is "Desk-crops" - not only are we encouraged to submit the spookiest images we can find, but there's a nice broad definition of "geological" to give me some lee-way.

What spookier way to celebrate Hallowe'en than to take you into the little shop of horrors that is my biology teaching lab? First up is my comparative anatomy collection:

Paul and I painted them up using acrylics over the summer, having been inspired by the fantastic comparative anatomy collection at the Mammoth Site. Just the right half is painted, allowing students to examine the original bones.

Also of note is the wet collection. We have amazing stuff, representative of all the animal phyla and plant divisions. I've been able to use the samples for teaching classification:

Please don't shout at me for using the word "starfish" - this was a distinctly basic science class full of students who think that nothing without a backbone is a "real" animal... Gruesome specimens also include the medicinal leech, the skate (used to investigate whether the cloaca of a manta ray really was likely to be similar in dimensions to the human vagina - a classic A2 biology moment!) and the pregnant rat complete with a dozen foetuses! The jar of lizards has also been used to rescue short-notice cover lessons and as a threat against non-science students messing around outside the lab.

It's not a bad lab - nice and big and plenty of space. Unfortunately it won't last - we are moving to a new building next year and the biology lab space will be halved. I'm going to make sure the specimens come with us, and the lab technicians are in agreement.

The most chilling specimen of all, however, is lying on top of the cabinets. The staff are divided over its usefulness and the appropriateness of keeping it. It's a real human skeleton. The older students are fascinated, but thinking it's a little undignified for the former owner of the skeleton. To this I say it's a bit more dignified than being shoved in a box and stored under the lab sink, which is where the other two bodies are.

And then the discussion starts up about whether using a skeletal human hand as a masturbatory aid counts as necrophilia, and it's clear the biology lesson is over... Happy Hallowe'en everyone - don't have nightmares.

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