The exercise was part of the university's Women in Science Day, and aimed to steer the 57 participating girls toward professional fields -- such as physics and astronomy, chemistry and biology, and engineering and medicine -- involving science and technology, and was conducted by Dr. Carlos Baptista, a professor in the neurosciences department who teaches anatomy.
Dr. Baptista is an expert in plastination, the technique that preserves gross anatomy specimens by replacing fat and water with plastics. After they have been plastinated, the body parts can be held, they don't smell or decay, and they retain their visual characteristics, Dr. Baptista said.
The professor held up two human brains and asked the students if they noticed any difference. They did, immediately: One had a bigger gap between the two hemispheres.
Right you are, Dr. Baptista said. The brain with the more pronounced gap was from someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He then showed another brain specimen, this time in cross section. It contained a red splotch from a stroke.
"There are a lot of diseased organs that have the same kind of architecture as when the person died," Dr. Baptista said.
There were plenty of other plastinated parts, including a lung, spine, liver, kidneys, and stomach. Dr. Baptista said before plastination, medical students had to study specimens preserved in formaldehyde, which has an unpleasant chemical odor.
The girls were from seven high schools: Woodward, Waite, Start, Scott, Bowsher, Rogers, and Ottawa Hills. They spent the morning at UT's Main Campus, where they had sessions in the Student Union and Nitschke Hall, where the college of engineering is located.
Men outnumber women in the scientific professions by a large margin, but the imbalance is not a result of sexism, said Isabel Escobar, a UT professor of chemical and environmental engineering and acting director of the university's Eberly Center for Women, which hosted the science day.
She noted that a 2009 study by the National Council for Research on Women showed high school girls are well represented in taking advanced placement tests in the sciences: They accounted for 55 percent of test-takers in biology, 47 percent in calculus, and 35 percent in physics. As a group, however, they don't exploit their aptitude as they get older.
Lauren Miller, 16, a junior at Waite, said the science day had persuaded her to change the direction of her life. She had wanted to go into medicine, but after hearing a panel discussion by students in chemical engineering, she decided to make that her field. She said she believed she had the necessary math skills, as she was taking honors precalculus.
Kristen Kennedy, a 16-year-old sophomore at Woodward, said the science day only reinforced her determination to go into pathology.
"I'm glad I came. Being able to see the different parts of the body was so interesting," she said.
Patrick Sweeney, a teacher of physical science and biology at Woodward, said he believed the students had profited from the day at UT.
"I think it created some spark of interest in our students. I think it opened their minds to possibilities, and I think it has increased their universe of choices," he said.
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