On a recent weekend I saw something spectacular. No superlatives — it really deserves to be called spectacular.
The introduction in the dimly lit anteroom at the Science Museum of Oklahoma pretty much sums up the “Our Body: The Universe Within” exhibit: A detailed look inside the human body is something that historically has been limited to doctors and researchers yet has fascinated man for millennia.
Despite its $23.95 cost per adult, the 13,000-square-foot exhibit is something everyone should see. Go now, go this weekend, go whenever — just go before it closes May 11. If you have ever wanted your child to become a physician, as just about every parent has, roll the dice and take him or her to the museum; there’s a good chance your child will leave with an abiding fascination about anatomy.
The exhibit is thought-provoking, gasp-inducing, and a real coup for the Science Museum, formerly the Omniplex. It features 18 complete bodies and 135 other body-system, anatomical and health-related items.
One of the most striking things is how respectfully the bodies on display have been treated. Even when posed, with muscles splayed, or seated, with veins and nerves hanging like plumb lines from thick rings of flesh, the bodies retain their dignity. The only time I was uncomfortable was with a man on a spinning platform who is holding his own skin in front of him. I’m not sure if I was uncomfortable because he was holding his skin or because his skin looked like a hide from any other animal.
I know how similar man is to lesser species. Anatomically, genetically and physiologically, the similarities far outweigh the differences. Still, it’s disconcerting to see how much man, stripped of speech and conscience, resembles other mammals.
The bodies don’t smell because they have been treated with a special solution that “plasticizes” tissue and renders it odorless.
Two things particularly stood out to me:
- The first was how dense veins, arteries and capillaries are in some parts of the body. One memorable part of the exhibit has legs, or at least the vasculature of the legs. Take the lungs, liver and kidneys — all are stocked for blood transport, per their functions. It’s one thing to see a spongy lung and quite another to see the vessels that deliver the blood that allows us to breathe. It’s this sort of big-picture perspective that was always lacking in school. It’s one thing to study the nephons in the kidneys, for example; it’s another to see how they look together, by the millions, life-size.
- Parts of the exhibit show slices down the sagittal and transverse planes (take a look at the picture above to see what I mean). I was able to understand, for the first time, how the internal organs relate and where they are located in body cavities. I saw the ventricles, or chambers, of the brain, and the pillow the lungs provide the heart.
I got the impression the exhibit attracts doctors as well: After hearing one describe what he looks for when examining someone’s ears, I realized docs must be thrilled to share what they do with loved ones in a way words simply can’t convey. The man described looking at a patient’s ear drum, and how he would see internal structures and note them on the patient’s chart. Hearing about this and looking into an actual ear and skull must have made the woman with him understand his work so much better.
Have you been to the exhibit? What did you think? E-mail me at email@example.com.
Jeff Raymond, Medical Writer