Night at the Vet College: Animal Athletes

Have you ever visited the Royal Veterinary College? Not many people realise our central London campus is only a 10-minute walk from King’s Cross or Camden Town. At the RVC, leading scientists and vets carry out research and teaching as part of our role as a specialist college for veterinary medicine, nursing and biosciences, in the University of London.

Whilst the campus is not usually open to the public, on Thursday 17 March 2016, we opened our doors to welcome visitors to see behind the scenes at our ‘Night at the Vet College’ event. Kindly funded by The Physiological Society, we focused on ‘Animal Athletes’, looking at elite physiological adaptations.

795 tickets were booked for this free event, and the night started off with a buzz and a queue that reached down the street. The first lecture was Professor Renate Weller’s ‘The Horse as the Ultimate Athlete’, which filled our Great Hall lecture theatre. Renate showed how horse legs can be compared to pogo sticks – of course there was one for a willing volunteer to try out!

Between lectures, visitors took part in hands on science activities such as our Physiology Challenge, where they could measure their heart rate, grip strength, reaction time and jump height, and compare them to different species. This was complemented by scientists explaining different aspects of animal physiology; such as Dr Sarah Channon showing muscle properties, Dr Amy Barstow showing how tendons work (both using real samples); and Dr Anna Walker demonstrating how she has developed innovative lameness sensors.

Paul Pollard from the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital demonstrated how vet nurses use physiological measures when caring for patients and visitors could have their ECG measured. We also had heart rate monitors on display, demonstrating how the same technology can be used for humans as well as horses to monitor performance.

The dissection event was a real highlight, and once again, Andrew Crook MBE gave a fantastic demonstration by showing a horse dissection to a live audience (which was completely full) and via live-streaming. Peter Day, our farrier, showed visitors how to use corrective shoes, and people were able to try out shoeing for themselves. We also had bone models that had previously been on display for the Ri Christmas lectures and art in the anatomy museum with our student art society and the Royal Society of Biology. Not only did visitors enjoy seeing the anatomy of extant species, they were also treated to a lively talk about extinct species presented by Professor John Hutchinson, explaining how giant animals were able to move in prehistoric landscapes.

The night ended with science comedy from Simon Watt in the Haxby bar, followed by a pub quiz probing the knowledge visitors, complete with animal themed prizes.

By Dr Grace Sim


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