In a lecture hall on the ground floor of the Erasmus University College building on the Nieuwemarkt, 13 students in white coats are ready for the brain dissection practical. On each desk, lecturer Anderson Mora Cortes put a tray with a calf brain and two knives on it.

“It might smell a little”, the lecturer says. Some students quickly put on their face masks. One student puts on her medical gloves. “It looks like a cooking show”, she jokes.

Lecture: The neuroscience of everything, Wednesday 3.15pm at the Erasmus University College Campus

Lecturer: Anderson Mora Cortes

Subject: The anatomy of a calf brain

Audience: A total of 30 students with an above-average interest in the brain; divided into two sessions.

Reason to attend: The opportunity to dissect a brain and the added bonus of an enthusiastic lecturer. You will also learn how the brain works, both anatomically and neurologically.

Understanding my ex

Student Barbara looks at her section of calf brain with a slight glisten in her eyes. She’s an exchange student and actually studying Economics and Business back home in Mexico. “When I found out I could do this course as a minor here, I was very happy”, she laughs.

Her interest in the brain started when her relationship with her boyfriend at secondary school ended. “It made me really want to understand how the brain works. Most of all, I wanted to know why my ex had made choices that I didn’t understand. I listened to some podcasts about the anatomy of the brain and how it works. They were very interesting”, she says. “So, my interest in everything to do with the brain is basically thanks to my ex.”

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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

Anatomy lesson

“Ladies, we’re about to get started!”, lecturer Anderson calls out through the hall. “Shall we take a look at ‘our’ brains?” He walks over to his own calf brain. A small camera is pointed at the brain and projects it onto a big white screen behind him.

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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

“Look how beautiful it is!” Anderson picks up the brain and places it in the palm of his hand. “I chose a calf brain because its structure and anatomy are similar to the human brain. It’s also very easy to source”, he adds.

“As we have learnt: this is the cerebrum.” He then points to the two parts of the brain. “These are the left and the right hemispheres. The left hemisphere plays a major role in language production, logic and analytical ability, amongst other things, while the right hemisphere is responsible for language comprehension and spatial understanding”, the lecturer explains.

Curious, a student picks up the brain on her desk. “Oooh, this feels like jelly”, she giggles as she returns the brain to the tray. Fellow student Dilay laughs. “I dissected brains at secondary school, so I had some idea what it would feel like.”

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Sagittal section

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Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

“Ladies, it’s time to use our knives”, Anderson says after explaining the outside of the brain. “We’re going to cut the brain into a sagittal plane and then a coronal plane.” A sagittal section is achieved by cutting the brain vertically from front to back, while the cut for a coronal section runs horizontally, from left to right.

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“Cut carefully in the middle; don’t apply too much pressure but let the knife glide”, the lecturer comments. He uses the camera to show his students the sectioned half of the brain. “See this? What’s this area called?”

“The subcortical area”, a few students mumble.

“And what are these neural pathways called?”

One student hesitatingly suggests: “Corpus callosum?”

“Perfect!”, the lecturer replies. “The corpus callosum connects both hemispheres of the brain and enables both sides to exchange information with each other.”

A student looks at the brain in front of her. “I don’t see it”, she says. The lecturer comes to take a look. “It’s here. Your brain has a small corpus callosum, which makes it more difficult to see.”


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Student Celia has been unlucky. Her calf brain is soft and has become a little mushy. So, she pairs up with another student. But it doesn’t make the practical less enjoyable, she says. “This practical is fun and really useful. I’ve read all the theory, but now I’ve seen a real brain and cut into it myself, it’ll be much easier for me to remember its anatomy.”

Student Evangelia says she has learnt a lot from the practical as well. “Dissecting a brain is much more fun and far more effective than just looking at images and memorising terms”, she says. She is full of praise for the lecturer. “He’s always enthusiastic, which is great to see. He explains everything clearly too and is very patient. You can always ask if there’s anything you don’t understand.”

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part of special

The greatest lectures at the EUR

Each month, editor Feba Sukmana and illustrator Pauline Wiersema attend a lecture at EUR.…

Editor Feba Sukmana and illustrator Pauline Wiersema follow a college every month. Together, they describe and depict how teaching is done, what happens in the lecture hall and what students think of the lecture.

EM is looking for the best, funniest or most interesting lectures at EUR. Should we pay your lecturer a visit? Tip us off at [email protected]