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Yuki Iida 

Christmas Science Lab

Students working at the laboratory.

Students working at the laboratory.

Taking a class during the Christmas holiday break sounds insane, especially when you know you’re going to be spending your precious Christmas day in a lab from day to night dissecting chicks.

The University of Tokyo had almost 70 of these insane students taking this experimental biology course that lasted for five days, from the 25th to the 29th of December 2012. The purpose of the lab was to culture cells and observe their characteristics resulting from cell differentiation. A chick embryo was pulled out of an egg to be dissected so the cells could be attained from the breast muscles, heart muscles and one other organ of your choice for cell culturing.

This class has been going on for 20 years by Professor Ryoichi Matsuda and his assistants from the Biology Department at the College of Arts and Sciences, and has built a tradition original to it. First of all, the enormous group was broken up in four groups; people who went to all boys schools, all girls schools, co-ed schools, and PEAK students, and were paired up so the pairs would be as mixed up as possible. This allowed students to break clicks and meet people they didn’t have any connections with.

Since there were 11 PEAK students that joined the course this year, there were some adjustments made to the 20 year tradition. The lectures and all questions from the students needed to be done in English, and the pairs of the PEAK students that weren’t fluent in Japanese needed to speak in English with them as well.  With the exception of explanations of scientific terms, no Japanese was used. It provided a good chance for the Japanese To-dai students to actually speak in English with native speakers, but at the same time, there were some students that had difficulty following the lectures and instructions given in English.

Professor Matsuda and the biology class members. Dec. 29, 2012.

Professor Matsuda and the biology class members. Dec. 29, 2012.

The course ended with a feast prepared with fish freshly bought from Tsukiji that morning. An angler-fish nabe using angler-fish meat dissected by Professor Matsuda and tuna sashimi cut by teacher assistant Mr. Wada filled the tables. This year Professor Matsuda’s birthday was coincidentally on the same day, so a surprise gift was given to him, too.

M.N., a PEAK Environmental Studies student, remarked that the course was interesting because it not only conducted an experiment but taught the fundamentals of biology, and it gave chances to interact with non-PEAK students. Despite the fact that a week out of the two-week winter vacation was lost, the contents of the lectures and the experiment was interesting, and there were many valuable experiences that could only be gained through this course that made it highly worthwhile. If you have no special plans during the winter break, this course might be worth considering.

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