Friday, February 22, 2008

And Then the Dinner Conversation Turned to Skulls...

Skull photo from WikipediaWhat kind of dinner was this -- a gathering of murder mystery writers? A meeting of anthropologists, paleontologists or forensic pathologists?  Ghouls?

Nope, this happened at a recent meetup of bloggers in my area. A plural of bloggers has no trouble talking forever about their blogs and recent posts. We did no less. However, toward the end of the meeting, we slid off-topic, and talked about other matters.

My table neighbor described a gift she had given to her husband: several skulls. Most husbands might not appreciate such a princely gift, but hers did. I just happen to be that kind of husband myself. I am not only fond of skulls, but also see a fair number of them at work.

Lateral radiograph of a skull
The conversation then segued to good places to buy skulls. Sweeney Todd would have no problem finding one, but where does a non-demon-barber type shop for such a thing?

As it turns out, it's actually not hard to buy a whole head at a local slaughterhouse. However, if your main interest is the skull, you will first have to remove a fair amount of squishy soft tissue (this includes brains). If you are not daunted by the thought of this, Google can be your best friend. Thus begins a very brief tangent into what it takes to clean a skull.

My first search -- "stripping bones" led me to a cute but irrlevant YouTube video that is mildly not-safe-for-work. However, this search didn't immediately yield any practical tips that I'd want to try at home.

I had much better luck with "cleaning bones", which led to several possible approaches. However, I'm not too wild about soaking a large head in a hydrogen peroxide solution, or boiling it on my stove. I'm not squeamish, but one of the many good reasons I went into radiology in the first place was to avoid having to deal with messy body parts. For the same reason, I'd rather not raise a colony of dermestid beetles at home. A piranha tank is similarly out -- besides, owning a personal pirahna appears to be illegal in my state.

If one steps back from the abyss of DIY skull maceration, one is pretty much left with outsourcing the job. If one wants to send off a bag of money and get back a skull, there seem to be no end of sites offering this service.  To see for yourself, just Google the phrase "platypus skull".

At this point, our cranial conversation moved briefly to a diamond-encrusted skull that may still be on the market for a mere $100 million. Admittedly, this looks very cool, but I may just spend my first $100 million on something else.

In our final calvarial communications, I suggested to my fellow blogger one possibility for topping her previous gift -- a way in which she could essentially give her husband his own skull for Christmas.

All she has to do is to figure out some way of getting a CT scan of her husband's head when he isn't paying attention. The scan data can then be reconstructed as a 3D picture showing just the bones. Better yet, there are actually companies out there who will take this same CT data and print it in 3D using stereophotolithography -- producing a life-like plastic skull exactly the same shape and size as her husband's.

3D Volume reconstruction of skull and neck from CT data
Hmmm, my wife always says that I'm hard to shop for at Christmas time. Maybe if I accidentally leave a copy of this post lying somewhere around the house...


Kim Carney said...

excellent gifts for such deserving husbands!

Zorg said...

Maybe if I accidentally leave a copy of this post lying somewhere around the house...

Well ... and that CT scan of you head.

It seems that surreptitiously getting a CT scan might be the greatest obstacle making this a surprise gift.

Which reminds me of an anecdote. Many years ago, my father had an MRI of his head in the course of a neurological diagnosis. MRIs were fairly uncommon in those days, and he became fond of telling people that everyone claimed they had a brain, but only he could prove it.

Kim Carney said...

had to show you this wonderful skull

The Samurai Radiologist said...

@ kim: Wow, thanks for sharing that picture! I especially like the fine details of the nasal turbinates.

Your posted link asked me for a password, but it worked just fine when after I edited it to this link

The Samurai Radiologist said...

@ zorg: Yes, getting a stealth CT on one's spouse may require great skill and guile. I will leave this as an exercise for the advanced student in spouse manipulation.

Also, let me know if you ever require that kind of personal cerebral proof -- we can probably fit you in at work.