Debbie Knight

Meet the lab mascot: Cornelius, the wonder octopus

In observation on May 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Our lab has an official mascot: Cornelius.

Cornelius is (or was) an octopus that once lived in the waters of Florida until he was caught on a fishing trip by the son of an Ohio State University professor named Ralph Stephens. Cornelius was brought back to central Ohio and given to the professor. Stephens did what any good pathology professor would do: he fixed the octopus in formalin.

And thus, Cornelius “The wonder octopus” became the Stephens’ lab mascot.

This occurred around 1980, as a former Stephen’s lab member recalls.

About 20 years later, Dr. Stephens retired and I discovered Cornelius abandoned on a high shelf in a murky glass jar. And to be honest, the contents of the jar looked more like a pathology specimen than a cephalopod.

I wasn’t sure if Cornelius could be “saved” but I thought I would try. So I went to the store and bought a fish bowl, some glass beads, and an aquarium trinket sporting an octopus coiled around a “no fishing” sign.

I poured out the contents of the jar, rinsed Cornelius off, and found him to be well-preserved, despite a few missing tentacle cups. And I proceeded to fill the fish bowl with fresh, crystal-clear formalin before placing him in his new home and sealing the top (formalin is rather smelly and volatile).

I placed the fish bowl on bench behind my lab desk. And soon I began noticing that he would “move” when I wasn’t looking – it wasn’t anything big, just a slight shift from time to time. But it started to creep me out (especially when I was in the lab alone). Eventually I realized there were air bubbles trapped under his body from the transfer that were causing him to shift and “move.” (Shew! For a few days there, I thought I was in some sort of  horror movie — maybe something  “Revenge of the Deep” or “Mr. Squiggles’ Rampage”)

So, now, Cornelius sits in his aquarium quietly watching over our lab. He’s not quick to judge us when we mess up an experiment, not does he really cheer much when the experiment is a success. He just sort of sits there.

But that’s okay, Cornelius is often the topic of  conversations (especially when we have visitors), so he doesn’t really need to say much to do that.

Hopefully, when my boss is ready to retire, we can pass Cornelius on to another lab and continue the tradition.

  1. Every lab should have a mascot, it builds morale. Your story reminded me of the show American Pickers where these 2 guys travel around America looking for valuable “junk” in people’s yards that they can buy. I can imagine all the cool stuff science professors have lying around their offices & labs that they don’t want.

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