NIU STEM Café explores Frankenstein’s legacy

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” the next NIU STEM Café will bring together experts in a variety of fields for a lively discussion about dead bodies and body parts. Hear how scientific quests for knowledge led to grave robbing and even murder right here in DeKalb County in the 19th century. Learn how ethical practices in body procurement and preservation have advanced modern medicine. Discover how scientists are applying this knowledge to engineer and fabricate body parts.

The STEM Café will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Fatty’s Pub and Grille in DeKalb. The event is free and open to the public, and food and drinks will be available for purchase from Fatty’s.

The lineup of lively and knowledgeable speakers will begin with local historian and NIU alumnus Clint Cargile. Cargile will tell the story of the “resurrectionists” who invaded DeKalb County in 1847 and 1848 to steal bodies of the recently deceased to sell to medical schools.

Clint Cargile, local historian

Cargile says the audience might be surprised to hear that the resurrectionists were here and were finally run out of DeKalb County in a hail of bullets. “You hear of such stories taking place in the wild west,” he says, “but what many people forget is that in the 1840s, Illinois was the wild west.”

Daniel Olson, director of the anatomy laboratory and willed body program

Dan Olson, director of the anatomy laboratory and the willed body program at NIU, will introduce the audience to more modern methods of donating the body to science. He will discuss the procedures for donating one’s body to NIU and will describe some of the many research and teaching opportunities the lab provides to the nearly 750 students who use the anatomy lab each year.

Olson will introduce the audience to Mary McGinn, a biology instructor at NIU who helps to administer the willed body program, and Sam Finch, owner of Finch Funeral Home in DeKalb.

“My goal is that, after meeting individuals associated with the willed body program, people will feel much more at ease with body donation and more assured that they or their loved ones will be cared for and respected at all times throughout the anatomical studies period,” Olson says.

Dr. Sahar Vahabzadeh, assistant professor of mechanical engineering

Finally, Sahar Vahabzadeh, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at NIU, will discuss current research and future developments in bone and dental tissue engineering. She will present common applications of biomaterials and explain why we need to use metals and ceramics.

“Due to the limitations of ‘live tissue’ availability from donors and the infection risks, processing of synthetic materials that can replace any part of the body is key for the future,” Vahabzadeh says. “In our lab at NIU, we are trying to process metals and ceramics that can be used in orthopedics and dental tissue engineering applications.”

NIU STEM Cafés are sponsored by NIU STEAM and are designed to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in our everyday lives.

For more information, contact Judith Dymond at 815-753-4751 or email jdymond@niu.edu.

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