Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Expanding Animal Knowledge

It is a unique experience when a student is able to expand the curriculum of his or her own field, and Dr. Heather Dunn of the department of animal and veterinary sciences (AVS) has led a Creative Inquiry project that gives students just that opportunity. The field is in ruminant anatomy, the eventual outcome will be a textbook, and the information compiled is the first of its kind.

The purpose of the project is to compile a volume of ruminant images and diagrams, a field of animal veterinary sciences that is currently underdeveloped. Ruminants are animals with four-part stomachs, and many can be found on Clemson's local farms, including sheep, goats and cows. And, ruminant anatomy remains a vital subject in the field of animal veterinary sciences, especially with the growing demands of American farms and farm animal health. But, not all major universities and academic institutions have access to such animals, which makes Clemson an obvious choice to pave the way in expanding the area of study.

Dunn is an obvious choice to lead the Creative Inquiry. The plan to create a ruminant-specific textbook for veterinary science programs is familiar territory for Dunn, who has already helped create an anatomy textbook on other animals for veterinary technology programs. The textbook is composed of animal images and diagrams for veterinary study, and operates as a sort of photographic atlas on the different kinds of animals. However, a ruminant-specific textbook has yet to be published, and it is an academic gap in the veterinary field that needs to be filled.

"The whole driving force behind all this is that we have fewer and fewer people that are born and raised on farms," explains Dunn. "No one has this large animal experience. Somehow we have to keep up and keep our food supplies safe, so that's our big picture."

The work behind the Creative Inquiry project focuses on image compilation and anatomy identification, tasks that find the students of the team photographing and labeling expanding animal knowledge the different organs and bone structures of ruminant farm animals. It is a multi-step process from first images to final publication, and those involved in the project have been a part of it all. "First semester, we actually started out with the animal dissections," says Dunn. "Then, we were collecting tissue, making the slides, staining the slides and taking the pictures."

Images are not the only information being compiled into the textbook; x-rays, drawings, dissections and bone diagrams will also be included to give the full and necessary spectrum of ruminant anatomy. Handling techniques are also being investigated by the Creative Inquiry team, and many of the students have taken pictures of other AVS classes out in the field working with live animals.

Dunn hopes that this project will shed light on the creation and production of textbooks vital to the sciences, and that the students will incorporate their newfound knowledge in further pursuits. "When they now open up a textbook, they have a lot more appreciation for all the work that goes into the pictures. They've put all of this information together that they've been hearing about and are able to use it," she explains, reiterating that the students have been a major force in the inquiry's progress.

"Not only do they have to identify the bones, they have to identify all the parts of the bones. There's a little bit of research and homework, and they have to make sure that it's right," she adds. "They're driving the ship and I'm just keeping everybody organized."

The hope is to hit the academic market in 2014, but the team first has a conference in Indianapolis that will be used to hand out representative pictures and samples of the compiled information. The conference is a joint annual meeting of veterinary and dairy science, and the Clemson team will be operating a vendor's booth to garner attention for the textbook. Currently, there are two publishers vying for the rights to the textbook, which is good news for Dunn and her team.

The real goal, however, is to further knowledge of ruminant anatomy and to provide access to schools that do not have ruminant information readily available. "Let's educate more people with large animal anatomy, even people at schools that don't have it," Dunn says, explaining that AVS students will be able to work more knowledgably with these animals when they move into veterinary schools or farm management.

The Ruminant Anatomy Creative Inquiry team is contributing an important service to the veterinary field, providing much-needed anatomy information to the animal and veterinary departments. Thanks to Dunn and her team of AVS students, schools and programs across the nation will be able to utilize accurate and up-to-date ruminant information in their future curricula.

By: Blake Calamas (Decipher Issue 2, Fall 2013)