Boulder Valley School District

Students get hands-on lessons in anatomy through new synthetic cadaver: $60,000 anatomically-correct model made possible through Perkins grant

students working on artificial cadaver
Randy Barber

BOULDER - Getting an in-depth and close-up view of the inside of a human body can be tough, but a new synthetic cadaver is giving students at Boulder TEC an up-close and hands-on look at the human body without the gross-out factor.

Understandably, real human cadavers can be difficult to obtain and tough for some high school students to stomach.

“Not every kid wants to go to a cadaver lab,” explained  Boulder TEC Biomedical Sciences Instructor Kristie Evans. “I take students every year, but as soon as the bag is unzipped, some students are out the door. However, that is not to say that they wouldn’t be amazing research scientists. So, if they don’t want to work hands on with patients, per se at the doctor level, because you’ve got to cut cadavers in medical school, they can definitely do other things by learning human anatomy and physiology.”

Thanks to a $60,000 Perkins grant, students at Boulder TEC now have an opportunity to touch and feel an anatomically correct synthetic cadaver. “Zora,” as she has been nicknamed, is the first SynDaver, a synthetic female cadaver at a Colorado school.

“She is anatomically correct and is made of water, fibers and salt – just like real humans are,” explained Evans. “She is 5 foot 4 inches and 110 pounds.”

She says that every detail is correct, down to the weight and feel of each of her organs.

Zora is kept in a special case filled with water to keep her hydrated and she must be maintained regularly by having her water changed every two weeks and a bath once a month.

“She is the most expensive classroom pet we’ll ever have,” Evans said with a laugh.

Students are encouraged to touch her, as long as they’re wearing gloves - which is good practice for what they will do when they work with real patients in the future. The water fibers are delicate and can turn black if touched by ungloved hands.

“It is just like a person,” Evans explained. “You have to take care of her.”

Evans first learned about SynDavers from a Facebook post from a Project Lead the Way school in another state. A Carl Perkins Grant made it possible to bring one to Boulder TEC.

“Perkins money is not for regular classroom supplies. It is used to supplement,” Evans said. “It has to be something cutting edge that can enhance student learning.”

Evans is currently working to get an immersion cadaver table, so that Zora can be wheeled around Boulder TEC for different CTE classes from criminal justice to cosmetology.

While most people wouldn’t make the connection, Evans says the esthetician students have really appreciated visiting Zora, because it helps them understand the anatomy under the skin.

“For their state licensing exam, they have to know all the anatomy from the upper body and neck and head, everything from nerves to bones to muscles,” Evans said.


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