The Science of Sustainability

Creepy Yet Compelling: Blood Vessels Blown in Glass

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Real blood vessels in a real brain

Real blood vessels in a real brain

Plastic Skeleton

Plastic Skeleton from Party City - Not Anatomically Correct

Halloween means time for gore! Blood, bones, brains and more! Severed fingers, severed toes, eyeballs and organs galore!

But how accurate are all these loose bits of human anatomy in our front yards, costumes and punch bowls? Can we use that skeleton in the corner to bone up for a biology exam–or are we missing out on a tremendous opportunity to learn medical science?

Perhaps we need to look past the Halloween superstores for a vendor who truly appreciates the beautiful complexity of the human body’s inner workings. Farlow's Scientific Glassblowing, located in Grass Valley in the Sierra foothills, is the perfect alternative source for holiday decorations. Their anatomical glass sculptures are exquisitely accurate, based on measurements from real cadavers. The brain model, pictured below, is so beautiful you may have to restrain any zombies at your party from taking a bite.

(Despite its recognizable shape, the model contains no gray matter at all–it's exclusively made up of arteries. They map out the cranial organ so nicely because the brain demands a massive amount of blood–15% of the total cardiac output.)

Glass Brain Vasculature from Farlow's - Anatomically Correct

Of course, these glass models have a more serious purpose than mere festivity. "Ideal for stent placement testing and tortuous testing as well as catheter testing," Farlow's proudly proclaims. "These models may be customized with aneurysms." Well! Who wouldn't want that?

Farlow's primary customers are the companies who research and design medical devices. Stents, for example, are short tubes than can be used to treat aneurysm–the ballooning of a weak-walled blood vessel–as well as to keep blocked arteries open. Stents in turn are often deployed by catheters, much longer tubes that can be threaded through the body's natural ducts and vessels in order to ferry tiny devices, drugs, or even remotely operated surgical tools to any desired location.

Mrs. Einstein from Farlow's - Anatomically Correct

And that, I've learned, is where tortuous testing comes in. Searching for the definition of this curious phrase, I found something hilarious: the Hydrophilic Coatings Blog. Why yes, of course such a thing exists! Hydrophilic Coatings informs me that tortuous testing is a way of making sure your device (probably a catheter) can turn all the necessary corners and angles to get where it needs to go. Glass models are just the thing for this–because they're transparent, you can see exactly where your catheter gets stuck or turns the wrong way.

In all honesty, we'll probably have to leave the gorgeous glass models to the serious researchers. It's too last-minute (and too expensive) for most of us to bother classing up our Halloween celebrations. But maybe Farlow's remarkable craftsmanship can remind us to take a moment on Wednesday night, when handing candy to a little skeleton or dancing with a zombie, to appreciate the beauty as well as the gruesomeness of the human body.

h/t to Wired

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Category: Biology, Blog, Health

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Danna Staaf

About the Author ()

Danna is a marine biologist, a science writer, a novelist, an artist, and an educator. She helped found the outreach program Squids4Kids, illustrated The Game of Science, and has blogged at Squid A Day since 2009. She holds a BA in Creative Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a PhD in Baby Squid from Stanford. She lives in San Jose with her husband, daughter, and cats.
  • Dad

    "bone up" Ouch!

    • http://cephalopodiatrist.com Danna Staaf

      It was cheap. But I couldn't resist.