Stem cafe explores anatomy

By Sophia Mullowney

DeKALB – At Fatty’s Pub and Grill, 1312 W. Lincoln Highway, Tuesday evening, the NIU STEM Café hosted “Frankenstein’s Legacy: The Past, Present and Future of Anatomy and Synthetic Biology.”

The free and open event featured four speakers, a question and answer session and raffle. Many in attendance were students from DeKalb High School, on assignment from an anatomy course.

“It was extra credit, and we thought it’d be fun just to go,” 16-year-old DeKalb resident Mileyka Aguirre said. “For me, I want to become a mortician, so it was fun to learn about the history of grave robbing.”

Featured speakers Clint Cargile, Dan Olson, Mary McGinn and Sahar Vahabzadeh were on hand to discuss the history of grave robbing, ethics in anatomical procurement and preservation and the application of such knowledge to modern-day techniques in the engineering and fabrication of biomaterials.

Cargile, local historian and host of NPR’s podcast “Drinkin’ with Lincoln,” discussed the history of grave robbing and an 1849 event that touched the DeKalb and Sycamore area, then only settled for 10 years. He recounted a local tale about a confrontation between relatives of a woman recently deceased and students of a nearby medical school that attempted to procure her body for their studies. Needless to say, the encounter turned violent and still has a place in DeKalb and Sycamore’s lore, Cargile said.

Vahabzadeh, assistant professor from the department of mechanical engineering, introduced methodologies in constructing implants, grafts and prostheses through biomaterials. Advancements Vahabzadeh hopes to spearhead through her ongoing research include patient-specific implants, wound adhesives and manufactured tissue.

Olson, assistant professor in the department of biological sciences and director of NIU’s anatomy lab, was joined by laboratory instructor McGinn to educate attendees on the process his lab undergoes to acquire, utilize and preserve cadavers for educational functions. The anatomy lab hosts up to 800 students annually from a variety of programs on and off campus.

McGinn, who is also head of NIU’s anatomy club, said any course that uses the lab fills to capacity quickly. Due to the lab’s popularity, she also said her team and university officials have undergone talks to expand the facility and its outreach.

“The lab itself right now is busting at the seams,” McGinn said. “We could not fit another body in there if we had to. But right now, it’s in the talk box.”

The anatomy lab has also gained exposure on campus through NIU STEMFest, which saw 500 attendees visit their table at last year’s exhibit. At this year’s STEMFest, to be held Saturday, Oct. 27, the anatomy lab will have two tables and provide a set of human organs for attendees to simulate real lab procedures.

“We’ve doubled the size,” McGinn said. “We have several activities planned for different age groups, and I have volunteers. So, we are really, really excited this year.”