Royal Veterinary College open evening is a big hit

The Royal Veterinary College threw open its doors last Thursday to allow the public prime access to the famous institution.

Prospective students, teachers from local schools, and those who just wanted to satisfy their scientific curiosity booked free tickets to the event, held at the college’s Camden campus in Royal College Street. I went along with them to see what it was all about.

The evening had a “birds and bees” theme. In other words, it was all about sex.

With interactive exhibits, live dissections and experts on hand to answer an endless stream of questions (many of them from myself), the evening was not only educational, but also a lot of fun.

Staff and students from the college had put a lot of thought into providing displays that were accessible to those, like me, who don’t have a scientific background, but were also able to captivate those with a keen interest in the subject.

I made my way around the stalls, learning everything from the role veterinary pathology can play in helping to secure criminal convictions to how vets use advanced hormone-testing to advise dog breeders on when their animals are most likely to conceive.

For what will almost certainly be the only time in my life, I held a pig’s uterus in my hands, prodded a horse’s placenta, and stuck my hand inside a plastic simulated cow to feel her ovaries.

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But the highlights for me were watching sheep sperm fight to penetrate an egg through a microscope, harvesting my own DNA from my cheeks cells and making an origami fish embryo out of paper.

I was fascinated to learn that each of our tiny little cells contain two metres of tightly-coiled DNA; the scale of female egg cells and male sperm cells is exactly the same in all mammals as it is in humans; and that fish embroyos take just three days to develop.

Even bigger fish like sharks develop at impressive rates, and will be swimming around fully-formed just days after the mother has laid her eggs.

Other visitors were equally positive about the evening.

Bethany Kelly, 16, said: “I came to look around just to check this is definitely the career I want to get into, and now I think it definitely is the path I want to follow.”

Graham Naden, 16, added: “It’s been really good; the reptile introduction talk was interesting.”

Staff and students also welcomed the chance to pass on their knowledge to the public.

Sonja Jackel, a lecturer in farm animal disease diagnostics, said: “I like the interaction with people who are interested in science, it’s always nice having interaction with the public, and for them to see what they’re doing.”

Third year student Gemma Collins, 21, added: “It’s a good opportunity to really engage with the public and show the vet school to the wider community.”