Colleges are mailing brains and hearts to pre-med students to dissect at home during the pandemic

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The pandemic is forcing college students to adapt to a lot of changes.

One of the oddest has been what to do in biology labs, where students are expected to learn anatomy and physiology by dissecting animal specimens.

Some instructors have opted for virtual labs, but others are shipping brains, hearts, and eyeballs to students to dissect in their homes while being observed on Zoom.

One student’s TikTok video depicting her ‘unboxing’ a particularly pungent fetal piglet gone viral.

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Students like Lafayette College junior Maggie Ledwith (pictured) have been sent preserved brains and other animal organs in the mail so they can complete their labwork while taking classes remotely

Students like Lafayette College junior Maggie Ledwith (pictured) have been sent preserved brains and other animal organs in the mail so they can complete their labwork while taking classes remotely

Neuroscience majors taking professor Luis Schettino’s Physiological Psychology 2 class at Lafayette College were sent sheep’s brains, frequently used in student labs because they closely resemble the human cerebellum. 

‘Performing a dissection on a sheep’s brain at home was not something I would have foreseen myself doing,’ said junior Maggie Ledwith, ‘but the psychology department and neuroscience program did a great job preparing us for the procedure and ensuring we had the resources to carry out the lab.’ 

The brains were preserved without the use of toxic chemicals, and came with gloves and other protective gear. 

Still, Schettino admitted, it’s a ‘second-best solution.’ 

Professor Luis Schettino leads students in his Physiological Psychology 2 lab at Lafayette College over Zoom. 'To be honest, there is no substitute for having the students be all within the lab,' Schettino told Futurism

Professor Luis Schettino leads students in his Physiological Psychology 2 lab at Lafayette College over Zoom. ‘To be honest, there is no substitute for having the students be all within the lab,’ Schettino told Futurism

‘To be honest, there is no substitute for having the students be all within the lab,’ he told Futurism

In July, students who enrolled in a summer internship at Stanford Medical School were sent a vacuum-sealed sheep brain and pig’s heart to dissect. 

Missing out on face time with professors was disappointing, but Caitlin Dinh, a junior at the University of Southern California, told Stanford’s Scope blog, ‘I learned more about medicine in two weeks than I did in two years of college.’

Using the provided stethoscope and blood-pressure cuff she used took her mom’s vitals.

Then, as her professor watched on Zoom, she dissected the heart and brain and practiced suturing on a pig’s foot she bought at the market.

Julie Taraborell, a junior at the University of Arizona, said she didn't know what to expect in the package for her Physio 201 class. 'Honestly, I thought it was going to be a fake dissection kit, maybe plastic or something like a toy that you can learn from,' she told the CBC

Julie Taraborell, a junior at the University of Arizona, said she didn’t know what to expect in the package for her Physio 201 class. ‘Honestly, I thought it was going to be a fake dissection kit, maybe plastic or something like a toy that you can learn from,’ she told the CBC

Julie Taraborelli, a junior at the University of Arizona, practically got a whole butcher’s shop for her Physio 201 class.

In a spoof of popular ‘unboxing’ videos, Taraborelli filmed herself opening a package that included a fetal pig, a sheep’s brain and a cow eyeball, along with assorted tools and instructions.

‘Honestly, I thought it was going to be a fake dissection kit, maybe plastic or something like a toy that you can learn from,’ she told the CBC. ‘I didn’t know it was going to be real.’

Taraborelli received a sheep brain, often used in lab classes because of its similarity to the human brain. She said she was probably going to dissect the organs on her patio 'so it doesn't smell inside the house'

Taraborelli received a sheep brain, often used in lab classes because of its similarity to the human brain. She said she was probably going to dissect the organs on her patio ‘so it doesn’t smell inside the house’

Also included in her class materials was a cow eye, vacuum sealed to preserve it. 'I would have never expected them to ship us, through the mail, real animal parts,' Taraborelli said

Also included in her class materials was a cow eye, vacuum sealed to preserve it. ‘I would have never expected them to ship us, through the mail, real animal parts,’ Taraborelli said

The odor, though, was a dead giveaway.

In a clip Taraborelli uploaded to TikTok, you can hear someone loudly announce ‘it smells like sh-t!’

Her two roommates are in the class, too, and received the same preserved parts, along with goggles, gloves and scalpels.

‘I would have never expected them to ship us, through the mail, real animal parts,’ Taraborelli said. ‘We saw that there was an eyeball and a brain, but then we saw there was a whole pig and everyone was just shocked. [We were all] laughing because it was funny that we were all in shock.’

When she and her roommates saw there was an entire fetal piglet in the box, Taraborreli said, 'everyone was just shocked. [We were all] laughing because it was funny that we were all in shock.'

When she and her roommates saw there was an entire fetal piglet in the box, Taraborreli said, ‘everyone was just shocked. [We were all] laughing because it was funny that we were all in shock.’

The trio kept their specimens in the hallway until it was time to log onto Zoom and dissect them.

‘I think I’m going to do it on my patio so it doesn’t smell inside the house,’ Taraborelli said.

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