Today I Learned: The Smell of Formaldehyde Makes You Hungry
The Smell of Formaldehyde Makes You Hungry
In the first episode of an all-new BU Today podcast, we sit down with sophomore Suzie Marcus to discuss her favorite class, HS 369: Gross Human Anatomy
You can also find this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and other podcast platforms.
The classes we take can change our perspectives and shape our lives, and we think that’s something worth celebrating. Our new podcast, Today I Learned, is all about the classes at BU that have had a real effect on students in our community; we want to know all about the classroom environment, professor, subject matter, and the cool facts that make a lasting impression.
For our first episode, we’ve invited Suzie Marcus (CAS’26) to tell us all about her favorite class, Sargent HS 369: Gross Human Anatomy. Marcus wants to go into neurology, but she says she loves the broad approach to the human body that Elizabeth Co, a senior lecturer at the College of Arts & Sciences, presents in class. This class is half lecture and half lab (featuring lots of cadavers and human bones) and, according to Marcus, is perfect for anyone thinking about nursing, premed, veterinary studies, biomedical engineering, or “anyone who has a fascination with science and they aren’t squeamish.”
Want to be our next guest? Tell us about your favorite class here. Undergraduates, graduate students, and recent postgraduates are welcome to submit.
- Cadaver labs aren’t for the faint of heart—but most premed students know what to expect, and squeamishness isn’t an issue. (It helps if you watch surgery videos on YouTube in your spare time.)
- What happens when a muscle tears, a bone fractures, or a tumor appears? Elizabeth Co, who teaches Marcus and her classmates, wants her students to always consider the “downstream effects” when engaging in case studies.
- The smell of formaldehyde can trigger a hunger effect in some people, which is why it’s good to have a coffee shop nearby the lab.
Sophie Yarin: Hello everyone and welcome to Today I Learned, a BU Today podcast where we explore fun facts and ideas across a multitude of disciplines. We’ll be interviewing students about exciting things they learned in their favorite classes at BU. From changing majors to picking career paths, single classes can have a transformative impact on their future. I’m your host, Sophie Yarin, and I’m investigating how the things we learned in the classroom affect our lives. So, to do that, we’re going to be speaking directly to BU students, which is why we have Suzie Marcus joining us in the studio today. Suzie, thank you so much for being here.
Suzie Marcus: Thanks for having me.
Yarin: So, Suzie, you’re a premed student and a sophomore at the College of Arts & Sciences. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?
Marcus: I’m from Bedford, Massachusetts, which is about 45 minutes northwest of here. I’m studying neuroscience, and I definitely want to go into something related to neurology or neurosurgery—just something related to the brain.
Yarin: Got it. So, why did you choose that major?
Marcus: I didn’t always know what I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to do something STEM-related, but I actually used to be really squeamish. Obviously, I’m not any longer. I kind of discovered a fascination with the brain, and how we think, and then from there was kind of just reading things about the brain or watching their neurosurgery videos on YouTube—lots of late nights being interested in aneurysm clippings—and it kind of just turned into, “I want to know more about that.” That’s why I’m so fascinated with the brain. So, I said, “I have to major in neuroscience.”
Yarin: So, the class you’ve chosen to focus on today is Sargent HS 369: Gross Human Anatomy with Dr. Elizabeth Co. And what’s something you learned in that class that stuck with you?
Marcus: I think everybody knows when they’re signing up for the class that the lab is a cadaver lab, and certain people might have certain reactions to the cadaver. But from my experience, I don’t think that anyone really had a, you know, a feeling nauseous or anything. Because, again, I think people going into it know. I’ve also had some experience prior working in a morgue, so I was kind of used to the formaldehyde smell. And I would say that it can be easier or more difficult, depending on how you learn, because, you know, you kind of take for granted the red of the arteries and the yellow of the nerves in all those diagrams. But sometimes the diagrams, like cross sections of the knee, they don’t really make that much sense to me—honestly, they probably never will. But seeing it on a person, that makes sense. And being able to—of course, we have gloves on—being able to, you know, touch something or maybe pull something back to be able to see the more deep structures of, you know, a leg or an arm, that makes more sense. But, at the same time, everything’s the same color. So, it’s very difficult to tell, oh, is this connective tissue? Is this actually a nerve? But I think that being able to see both the diagrams in lecture, and then the physical anatomy and lab, it goes together very well.
Yarin: All right, so we asked you to prepare a fun fact to bring in on the show today. And why don’t you tell us what that fact is?
Marcus: Formaldehyde is an appetite stimulant in like 20 percent of people, which is kind of creepy, but then I thought, you know, after the lab my labmates and I did like to go to Starbucks and, you know, grab a bagel.
Yarin: How would you say that Dr. Co approaches the subject matter? The matter, literally.
Marcus: She brings bones to class, sometimes. They’re very clean—they’re not, like, in formaldehyde or anything. We learned osteology or just, you know, the parts of the bone in lab, but we also go over it in lecture. And so a lot of times she’ll bring different types of bones, like you could have a humerus, which is in your arm, or a femur, or part of a pelvis, and she’ll show us that. And I just remember, sometimes she would have the LAs [lab assistants] hand them out, so every couple of people, you would be like, “Oh, here’s this, this is like a scapula, which is the part in your back.” And she would kind of be like, “Okay, well, if you look at this side of it, you know, you have like a tubercle, like a bump, here,” and then you could feel it. So, that’s one way that she does, you know, more hands-on things because, for the bones, we do a lot of palpations, like feeling stuff on yourself, which is definitely very helpful. But you can’t really feel everything just by, you know, pressing on your arm. So, that definitely really helps. And then she also has case studies, which are huge for understanding things.
Yarin: What’s your favorite part of her teaching style? What do you appreciate the most?
Marcus: I think that she really has an enthusiasm for it, especially when she’s like, “I have my big box of bones,” and she’ll hand them out. And she definitely tells us a lot of fun facts about a lot of things that are not something that you would expect to learn. I also think that something that she really emphasizes a lot in both the gross human anatomy and her physiology class that I took are misconceptions, or just things that people think that they know about human anatomy and physiology that are actually just simply wrong. And she’ll explain, “If you heard that, that’s not completely true, it was actually this.”
Yarin: So, it sounds like this is going to be probably one of the most comprehensive biology, health science classes.
Marcus: We learn everything. Everything. It’s definitely a lot of material, but it’s totally worth it.
Yarin: Do you see anything that resonates with neurology and neuroscience?
Marcus: You know, I just remember she was talking about the cranial nerves, and you have these 12 cranial nerves, and I was like, “Oh, I know these, I got this.” So, I felt a little bit prepared in advance for some of that. In lab, we don’t really see the organs—that’s something that I didn’t know. We were doing the chest cavity one day, and the heart is not there; they have been taken out previously. But you get to see, like, part of the aorta and things. So, in lab, it’s definitely more focused on the bones and the muscles and the nerves. But in lecture, we also cover how the kidneys work, and we’ll have a case study on, like, a heart blockage and something. So, we also have neurological issues, which mostly had to do with the nerves.
Yarin: Has anything outside of neurology and nerves study sort of made you go, I like this, I’m enjoying learning about this.
Marcus: I think that I enjoy learning about kind of everything, you know, it’s just a lot that we learned about that, I found really interesting. I’ve always been really interested in the brain, but I became more interested in nerves, and kind of like your spinal cord. I remember, this was a random fact that she talked about that had nothing to do with the unit that we were about to start, and she talked about shingles really quickly. And it was kind of an unrelated note, but that’s something else that stuck with me about how, you know, the reason it’s called shingles is because I guess the rash appears, and [it’s] kind of like a very straight line that looks like a shingle, like a roofing shingle. The reason that you see it in the shingle in that line is because that’s where the nerves innervate. So, if you have, you know, just a line of that rash on your stomach, you can see the line of the nerve, which is crazy to me, like, I had no clue, I thought the brain was, you know, the end-all-be-all but, no. The nerves are also really cool.
Yarin: So, tell me a little bit about these cadaver labs and sort of walk me through a lab you had recently.
Marcus: So, I had an 8 am lab. And so, you know, they’re bright and early, that’s definitely something that people might have to get used to. You walk in, and usually, you know, you put your stuff down in the corner. And usually, we would start with osteology. And another thing that I thought was really interesting about the way that the class is structured is we didn’t have a professor there with us. It was two LAs, they were both seniors, they’re very nice. First, we would sit down, there’s regular, science table desks, that you would imagine. And sometimes there are bones laying out—clean ones, we don’t have to wear gloves, they’re just [like] if you would imagine a dog chew toy. And they would go over osteology, where we would have diagrams, either on like a computer, or like I brought my iPad, and you’d have to label them and they’ll be part of our post-lab assignment. They would go over the different parts of the bone, like, “This is, like, the inferior part of it. This bump means this,” and then, usually, we would move into the cadaver part of it. And these labs are very small, I think there were seven people, including myself. So, it’s definitely not a big lab, which makes sense.
And there are two cadavers: one is in the supine position, which is laying on your back. And one is in the prone position, which is laying on your stomach facedown, so that you don’t have to move them back and forth to see the structures on both sides. So, we have some sheets that are laminated, of course, we have gloves on and some, like, pointers that are metal and you can kind of put your pointer underneath this nerve and be like, “Look at this nerve, look at this tendon, this is that,” and we look at both the prone and supine to be able to see both the front and back view of the arm or the leg. We kind of just went right into it. And so the LAs, they would show us something, they’d be like, “Okay, look at this, this is like this muscle on your back.” You can pull back muscles because there are obviously more like superficial and deep muscles. And then they would be wearing gloves where we can look and touch and you can just gently pull back the muscle. I think everyone took a pause to be like, “Okay, like we can touch this,” but I think that it felt very lab science.
Yarin: Sounds like it’s safe to say that you’re not the only student in the class who’s watched surgery videos on YouTube.
Marcus: Yeah, I don’t think so. I think that we definitely stood farther back from the cadavers in the first lab. But then, by the time we were at our fifth lab, we were kind of like, “Oh, can I reach over here? Like, what does this tendon connect to? Like, oh, is this a nerve? Or what is this?” Any lab, I think, is something that you get used to, but it’s definitely different. Like, I don’t think I can compare it to running PCRs or doing anything else in the bio lab. It’s very unique.
Yarin: So, if you were to recommend this class, first of all, who would you recommend this class to? And, second of all, how would you describe it to them?
Marcus: I would recommend this class, definitely to anybody who wants to go into healthcare, whether that be nursing or premed, like myself, PA, maybe veterinary, you know, I know, it’s not an animal, but, you know, muscles are muscles. And the way that things connect, are very similar between mammals. I would also say, I was thinking about this, I feel like biomedical engineering students might like this, because I don’t know much about biomedical engineering. My mom’s one, so I probably should know, but we learned so much about muscles and the way that we move, and I think that if somebody is aspiring to help create something that has to do with mobility, that this is such a perfect way to learn, you know? How do we move? How are we able to rotate our arms? Or how are we able to stand on [our] tippy-toes, everything like that? You know, you can learn about that in class, but until you actually see it, and you can think, “If I pull on this bone, how is it moving? And what muscles?” That’s something that I think, you know, if they get a chance—I know they’re very busy—but if biomedical engineering students get a chance, I think they should absolutely take this class.
I think the way I would describe it is, I feel like it’s honestly two different classes that connect very well. Because in one aspect, you have the cadaver lab and so you’re there and you’re like, “Okay, we’re gonna learn about bones and, you know, where is this really in the body?” And you have lecture, where you’ll do case studies, like, “What happens if this goes wrong?” That’s the biggest thing. Like, what happens if this tendon tears? That’s what Dr. Co said—the best way to learn things is to think, “Okay, if this goes wrong, what are the downstream effects?” And that’s so true. That’s how I studied for every exam. So, I think that you get the more hypothetical in lecture, which is kind of like diagnosing, which I think that if somebody’s prehealth, that’s another really fun thing to do, and then you get more of the physical in lab. So, I think they’re two separate classes that connect very well, is what I would say.
Yarin: Suzie, thank you so much for sitting down with us for our inaugural episode. It was a pleasure to talk to you. And we wish you all the best with your upcoming labs, however many there may be.
Marcus: [laughs] Probably a lot.
Yarin: So, thanks for tuning in to Today I Learned, a BU Today podcast. Do you have a favorite class you think we should know about? Tell us all about it by filling out the form linked in our description. Today I Learned is produced and engineered by Andrew Hallock and edited and hosted by me, Sophie Yarin. We’ll see you next time.
Wonderful concept for a podcast!