An anatomy adventure in Paris

While on a family trip to France in the summer of 2017, I discovered the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy in the Jardins des Plantes of Paris. Part of France’s National Museum of Natural History, it is a hanger-like building, crammed with over 1,000 reconstructed animal skeletons, and lined with cabinets of preserved soft tissue specimens. Jars of brains, stomachs, and other viscera were arranged to allow the ready comparison of anatomical features. Although I’m a clinical anatomist, it was difficult to tear myself away from this comparative anatomy.  Of the seven days we spent in Paris, I devoted two days to the exhibits, and still was able to absorb only a small fraction of them. Not only was the space beautiful and awe-inspiring, but the weight of history was palpable. After all, much of this collection was assembled and studied by Cuvier himself. Needless to say, I was in anatomy heaven!

Georges Cuvier is considered by some to be the “father of paleontology”. His work as a comparative anatomist eventually led to the acceptance of extinction as a phenomenon.  Due to religious doctrine, there was quite a bit of resistance to the idea that some animals were no longer found on Earth, and (the story goes) that Cuvier’s detailed analysis of mammoth and elephant mandibles definitively proved that elephants weren’t simply evolved mammoths.  I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised, and perhaps personally validated by the importance that anatomy knowledge and careful observation played in Cuvier’s success story. As someone who is deeply interested in the study of anatomy, I like to stress to my students that the analysis of form can provide a wealth of knowledge, and Cuvier’s evidence which helped lead to academic acceptance of extinction is an example I have used to illustrate this.

 

 

The Hall of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology is easy to find within the National Museum. It is located in the Fifth Arrondisement with easy access from the Jussieu metro stop.  The building was constructed in preparation for the 1900 world fair, and has lovely architectural details, but insufficient air conditioning! If you plan to visit in the summer like I did, be sure to go as early as possible, as the heat can be stifling. In fact, the Hall of Paleontology on the second floor is often closed for excessive heat!  If you find yourself in Paris, be sure to carve out some time to explore this delightful museum.


Melissa Clouse received her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Berea College (Berea, KY) and spent five years as an officer in the United States Air Force, in a career field that had absolutely nothing to do with biology.  She received her Master’s of Science in Clinical Anatomy from Creighton University (Omaha, NE) and spent five years conducting research in the characteristics of intranasal prion infection. She is now an instructor and advisor at Doane University (Crete, NE), where she teaches human anatomy and cadaver dissection and serves as the Director of Pre-Health Programs.

 

Pre-Med Summer Camp for Middle Schoolers… Third Time is the Charm!

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For the last three summers, I have been developing and hosting a summer camp for middle school kids about medicine. They are doctors for the week, solving medical mysteries, learning about diseases, and diagnosing patients, all while learning basic anatomy and physiology. Many of the activities that I created for the kids are watered down (or not so watered down) versions of the lab activities our undergraduate students do. So far, we have concluded that the kids LOVE it, and it is only getting better with time.

The first time I ran this camp it was a bit… chaotic behind the scenes. The second time was a little less so, and this third time was smooth sailing. If I could write a letter to myself three years ago, there would be some important pieces of advice I would want to know. Since time travel is still ahead of us I thought I would share these little pieces of wisdom. Hopefully I can help someone out there in the HAPS universe that is thinking of starting a camp for kids!

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First, do not underestimate how excited the kids are to be in this camp. There is very little you could do to squish that enthusiasm out of them! So do not feel that you need to razzle dazzle them with these huge experiments for each activity. One simple activity I designed is called “Making Poop.” Campers use saltine crackers, a plastic sandwich bag, and different colored water (the digestive enzymes!) to act out how your body digests and breaks down food. At the end,  we have poop! Very basic, and the overall cost is pennies per camper. I designed this activity for our smallest campers, those entering 5thgrade in the new year. The older campers got much more advanced activities that had them working with real biomolecules, chemicals, and enzymes to learn how starch, lipids, and proteins are broken down. I heard such a fuss at the end of the day because my older campers (those entering 7thand 8thgrade) did not get to “make poop”.

Second, organization is key. During the first summer, my office looked like a cross between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and a paper supply store! It was a nightmare. This year I used big brown envelopes from our department’s mail room to sort and organize all the handouts that I had created for the campers. Then, each handout envelope was placed in the large plastic tub that stored the materials for each day’s activities. Taking the time a few days to a week before camp and sorting the materials and handouts by the day made things so simple.

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Last, science is an explorative field, and to truly appreciate this can take time. Rushing the kids through a dozen activities may feel like they are getting a lot out of the day, but watching them take their time on fewer activities and uncovering their interests is far better. I want to help them develop that curiosity for science and the bits and pieces going on inside of their own bodies. The bonus is that you don’t have to write a dozen activities for each day, so that’s a win-win.

You can check out the YouTube video of this year’s camp here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNsCBUXcmCM&feature=share

 

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Dani Waters is a first year PhD student in Educational Psychology at Penn State University. She has a M.S. in Biology where she focused on anatomy and physiology content. Dani teaches Human Anatomy and Physiology at Penn State University.