RCS Quekett Slide Project update

Tuesday 13th November 2016

The Club is collaborating with the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons of England on a project to catalogue, conserve and photograph slides that were prepared or acquired by John Thomas Quekett and are in the College’s collection. Their collection includes around 52,000 slides, of which approximately 12,000 were prepared or acquired by Professor Quekett.

We met in the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology where Martyn Cooke had laid out trays of Quekett’s slides for us to admire, and Hannah Cornish gave us an update on the project.

Presentation by Hannah CornishPresentation by Hannah Cornish

The collection of Quekett slides occupies around 300 drawers, and about 75% of these are new, with white Plastazote lining. A further 300 slides that were not in the database have been identified. Between 100 and 200 of the slides are in pretty bad condition and urgently need conservation. More terms have been added to the SurgiCat database, including Quekett’s name, taxonomic terms and the names of sources such as Charles Darwin and David Livingstone.

Over 400 slides have been photographed, and a few thousand more will be photographed in 2017. The photographs of the slides can be found by searching in the SurgiCat database:

Person/institution: Quekett
Object name: microscope slide
Only records with images: click so that a tick appears

This is how the Advanced Search screen should look:

SurgiCat Advanced search for Quekett slidesSurgiCat Advanced search for Quekett slides

In addition to the Quekett slides, notable material in the collection includes sealed glass vials prepared by William Hewson (about 240 years old) and a series of slides prepared by William Watson Cheyne to show that using antiseptics resulted in fewer infections in knee surgery.

The Quekett slides are still useful to researchers, and Alessandro Felder has made use of the slides of bones in his studies of comparative micro-anatomy of secondary osteons and biomimetics for architecture.

Presentation by Alessandro FelderPresentation by Alessandro Felder

Alessandro uses a 4× objective and reflected-light autofluorescence, with a special camera that records greyscale images with 65,000 levels, far more than the usual 256. The system achieves a resolution of 1.63 µm per pixel. The images are stacked using a plug-in for ImageJ.

After the presentations, we were able to admire the wide variety of Quekett slides, to visit the library to see Quekett’s diaries and notebooks, and to visit the small store-room where the slides are normally kept.

Drawer of large slidesDrawer of large slides

Drawer of digestive system slidesDrawer of digestive system slides

Slides of liverSlides of liver

Drawer of bone slidesDrawer of bone slides

Slides of boneSlides of bone

Drawer of coal slidesDrawer of coal slides

Slides of coalSlides of coal

Drawer of mineral slidesDrawer of mineral slides

Slide of garnetSlide of garnet

Slides of SphagnumSlides of Sphagnum

Dennis Fullwood brought along his Zeiss Standard microscope fitted with a Sony NEX-5N camera connected to a monitor so that we could view some of the slides.

Zeiss Standard microscope for viewing Quekett slidesZeiss Standard microscope for viewing Quekett slides

For those interested in the details, this was an afocal arrangement with a Leitz Periplan 10×18 eyepiece connected via a 52→28 mm step-down ring to a 50 mm f/2 Nikkor lens, with an AI-NEX adapter to fit it to the camera.

A rather older microscope on display was designed by Quekett and given to his brother, William Quekett. Sadly it is damaged and incomplete.

Microscope designed by John Thomas QuekettMicroscope designed by John Thomas Quekett

William Watson Cheyne (1852–1932) was a Scottish surgeon and bacteriologist who promoted and practised Joseph Lister’s ideas on antiseptic surgery. A drawer of his slides has recently been found at the College, and they show the beneficial results of antiseptics in knee surgery.

Slides of knees by William Watson CheyneSlides of knees by William Watson Cheyne

William Hewson (1739–1774) was an English surgeon, anatomist and physiologist who mounted specimens on strips of silver with details inscribed on the underside and preserved them in glass vials sealed with a black material.

Sealed glass vials by William HewsonSealed glass vials by William Hewson

In small groups, we were able to visit the College’s library to see a copy of Quekett’s famous book A Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope and some of his diaries and notebooks.

One of John Thomas Quekett’s notebooksOne of John Thomas Quekett’s notebooks

Practical Treatise on the Use of the MicroscopeA Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope, by John Quekett

Report and photographs by Alan Wood

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