When the 100 students of the Class of 2007 donned their scrubs and rubber gloves on September 5, they became the first group to study anatomy in the new labs at the Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education. As first-timers they had no point of comparison for the brand-new, shining, stainless steel facilities. But to anyone who has ever set foot in the old dissection rooms, one change was obvious.

“I’m working without a mask,” said Lawrence J. Rizzolo, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery and course director. He was, of course, referring to the strong odor of formaldehyde—or lack of it—in the new lab. Each station has a vent that draws odors out, and that drew a word of caution from William B. Stewart, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery and chief of the anatomy section. “The last thing you ask yourself is, ‘Did I turn the vent off?’ Because if the vent is on 24 hours a day, your cadaver will be sucked dry,” he said.

Rizzolo delighted in another difference—more space. “I can walk between tables,” he said.

The extra space and absence of strong odors are more than mere creature comforts. They’ve led to a change in the study of anatomy. “Students often come back to work extra hours,” Rizzolo said. “In the old lab your eyes would get itchy and your throat would get scratchy. The odor made you sick to your stomach if you stayed a long time.”

The tables are bigger and there are more of them—40 as opposed to 32. That means each dissecting station has four instead of five students. (Although only 25 tables are needed for medical students, others are used by the Physician Associate Program, residency programs and other institutions, such as Quinnipiac University, which don’t have their own anatomy facilities.) Computer terminals, which were being installed at each station during the fall, will allow students to refer to online resources while they are dissecting. “If a question comes up at the dissection table, the instructor can just say, ‘Let’s look at the computer resource,’ and make a point you can’t make if the computers are 10 steps away,” Rizzolo said.

Perhaps the biggest change for the first-year anatomy course has been the creation of what the faculty call “learning societies” within the class. Each is made up of 20 students and a mentor. “The idea is for these groups to develop a sense of community and share each other’s work,” Rizzolo said. “In the old labs, where everyone was standing on top of one another and it was hard to move around the lab, students would look at their own dissection and not look at who was next to them. … The geography of the lab has allowed us to organize this massive number of students into manageable groups that then become a community.”