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Anatomy Nights – Bringing Anatomists to a Public Audience

Way back in 2017, I went to a meeting of the Anatomical Society in Galway.

Conferences are a good opportunity to learn about the newest discoveries in a field, but for me their main draw is the chance to network. A scholarly conversation with Janet Philp (University of Edinburgh) at the conference dinner, had us pondering our role as anatomists in the public education of anatomy. By the end of the night, we’d gone around the tables at the dinner, roped in other willing (and not so willing) anatomists, and Anatomy Nights was founded.

The goal of Anatomy Nights is to bring expert anatomists to the public. The understanding people have of their own body’s anatomy is low. Astonishingly, only one third of the population know accurately where their heart is! The international popularity of the Body Worlds exhibitions show that the public are keen to learn more about anatomy, and there is a market building around this.  Some companies are providing ‘education’ at a price, but worryingly their educators aren’t experts in anatomy and misinformation is rife.

Anatomy Nights is our response to the challenge of increasing public access to the experts. Our first event, held on Valentine’s Day 2018, was centred around a non-human heart dissection.  We recruited qualified anatomists and coordinated its delivery in 5 sold-out locations around the UK, including Hull. Since then, we’ve had events on the brain and reached audiences further afield, including the US, Canada and Europe. Anatomy Nights events are well received, with press coverage at local and national levels.


Anatomists Kat Sanders
Using a simple camera-projector set up and animal organs from butchers/biology school suppliers, the audience get a close-up view of anatomy in action. Photo credit: Simon Hutchinson, Northern Ireland Science Festival 2019.

Some of our volunteer anatomists have never presented to the public. Anatomy Nights has not only been a way of getting accurate anatomy knowledge to a broad audience, but also to support and guide more of our peers in their development as science communicators, providing the tools they need to co-ordinate and host their own events.

The Anatomy Nights event series are set in public places to encourage an audience who would not usually consider attending a university-based event. In Hull, we’ve had packed events at The Brain Jar and Sailmakers Arms. The anatomist leads a presentation about the organ of focus e.g. where is it, what does it do, how does it work, what happens when something goes wrong? The presentation is followed by an animal organ dissection so the audience can see the structures themselves, and the night is finished with a Q&A.

A short anatomy quiz before and after has allowed us to evidence the positive effect that Anatomy Nights has on the public’s knowledge of anatomy – you’ll be pleased to hear that people leave the event knowing significantly more about their bodies as when they went in.

In October, I piloted a new show with the lungs as the organ of focus. Presenting at the W5 science museum in Belfast for their adults-only Halloween-themed night, I covered inhalation of UFOs and the problems with a pneumothorax for a 300-strong audience. The lungs will expand (pun intended) to global sites in late-2020. If you can’t wait till then, Anatomy Nights – Matters of the Heart will be out again in February. Come along and see if you really know where your heart is. Follow @AnatomyNight on twitter and check the website for more details closer to the time.

As well as co-founder of Anatomy Nights, Dr Kat Sanders is a Lecturer in Anatomy and Programme Director for the MSc in Clinical Anatomy (and Education) programmes at Hull York Medical School. This year, she is a finalist in the External Engagement category of the Employee Excellence Awards. Follow Kat on twitter @AnatomyKat.

Anatomists 2 Kat Sanders

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