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Box of 126 microscope preparations of a spinal column, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1911-1950

These slides show sections of the spinal column of an ‘idiot’. These slides were prepared by Alexander Ninian Bruce (d 1968), a Scottish physician and neurologist. The slides also show a number of different staining techniques used in microscopy and histology. ‘Idiot’ is a historical medical term, which is no longer used, to describe a person with a profound intellectual disability. Profound intellectual disability is a psychiatric category used to describe individuals with an IQ of less than 20.

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Glossary: histology

The study of the structure of tissues by means of special staining techniques combined with light and electron microscopy.

Glossary: microscopical preparation

slides prepared for examination under the microscope

Glossary: microscopy

The use of microscopes to study objects or samples. The three major types of microscopy are optical, electron and scanning probe microscopy.

Glossary: spinal column

The series of vertebrae that extend from the cranium to the coccyx, providing support and forming a flexible bony case for the spinal cord.

Glossary: idiot

An out of date medical term for a person with profound mental developmental deficiencies. Now considered a term of abuse.

Glossary: IQ

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is a score based on one of several different standardized tests designed to measure intelligence and reasoning ability.

Glossary: profound mental retardation

A level of mental retardation or mental disorder associated with an IQ below 20.

Glossary: staining

A technique in which cells or thin sections of biological tissue are placed in coloured dyes (stains) to make them visible through a microscope. Staining heightens the contrast between transparent cell or tissue components.