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Anatomy of an Install

Jul 9, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jessaca Gutierrez

Vanderbilt University’s anatomy lab reaches new heights.


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The new gross anatomy lab at Vanderbilt University is like something out of a futuristic crime show. The two instructor arenas (pictured here) provide students and instructors with up-close exercise visuals via 65in. Sharp PN-655 LCDs and a camera that is attached to one of the two arena surgical lights. Instructors are able to provide further visual markers for students with a portable annotation podium.

The new gross anatomy lab at Vanderbilt University is like something out of a futuristic crime show. The two instructor arenas (pictured here) provide students and instructors with up-close exercise visuals via 65in. Sharp PN-S655 LCDs and a camera that is attached to one of the two arena surgical lights. Instructors are able to provide further visual markers for students with a portable annotation podium.

When it comes to anatomy lab AV installations, perhaps none have been quite so intelligently designed as the one at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. Opened in October 2007, the new addition to Medical Center North houses the new lab. When initially thinking about what they wanted in the new lab, the school’s architects and anatomy professor Art Dalley, Ph.D., wanted to focus on two issues: location and the working environment.

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The first issue, location, was solved in an unprecedented way. While gross anatomy labs are usually tucked into basements, where natural light is nonexistent and where the school can privately preserve the dignity of the human corpses located there, the new lab instead occupies the 10th floor of the building—one of the highest points on campus. Having the lab this high up prevents anyone from seeing into the lab through the windows. It also allows the school to add another unique feature to the lab: floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding the lab with natural light.

For the second issue, the school called Bill Clark, account manager of Technical Innovation in Nashville. The school had worked with Clark on many of the school’s AV installation projects, and it wanted his insight on what could be done to solve what is a common problem in the anatomy lab: creating a way that students could bring in the textbook materials they would need for their lab exercises without damaging them from exposure to the lab elements.

In initial discussions in 2006, Dalley explained to Clark how lab textbooks came to become known as “greasers.” The term describes what happens to these textbooks when the students go from working on the cadaver to thumbing through the pages during lab exercises. Over time and repeated exposure to embalming fluids and other chemicals, the textbook is ruined. It’s also another reason why students try to forego bringing in their own expensive textbooks. As another solution, the school tried laptops as a way to provide students access to the materials electronically, but that didn’t succeed either.

Vanderbilt University gross anatomy lab

“The computer would get full of goo, and they’d ruin the laptops,” Clark says. “[Dalley said,] ‘We’d go through two laptops every year.’ Because they get the goo in there, they mess up all the keys, things short out. They were going through computers like crazy. The challenge was to get the technology available to them so they could work with the cadavers and also have their textbook available.”

After some brainstorming, Clark came up with the idea of providing such learning materials via an interactive touchscreen monitor that would be right at the students’ work tables. This would allow the students to work as normal at their workstations and still have the capabilities and course materials the computers had provided them.

Because an out-of-the-box solution didn’t exist for a panel like the one Clark had in mind, he went to InfoComm 06 to scour the show for a panel that could be customized to work in the lab environment.

“I needed something industrial-strength,” Clark says. “I ran across this guy who took me to this booth called Hy-Tek, and he said, ‘These guys are making these flight-simulator things. They’ve got these environmental enclosures. It’s got an onboard computer, and it’s got all this stuff.’ So I looked at it and thought it would be perfect. I asked if they could put this into an enclosure that’s environmental-proof but also corrosive-resistant. They said, ‘Yeah, we sure can.’”

After telling Dalley about the product and giving the school a figure—approximately $12,000 per unit (since then, the cost has dropped to around $5,000 per unit), Clark had a test unit brought in so the school could see how it would work in the environment. After testing it for almost a month, the school decided the monitors were a good fit for the experience the school wanted to provide its medical students, so Clark moved forward with the design.





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