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BODIES On Exhibit At Carnegie Science Center

Exhibit Elicits Reaction to Real Bodies

November 26, 2007
By GABE WELLS Staff Writer

Not often is someone asked if she would like to hold a human brain. A teen at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center decided it was more than her own mind could endure.

The girl was a high school student on a field trip to see “Bodies ... The Exhibition.” After weaving her way through the nine displays that use human cadavers — yes, real human bodies — to offer the truest display of the body’s systems, the girl was not ready for the opportunity she was afforded.

The brain was offered to her by a Carnegie tour guide, and she quickly dashed at least 10 feet from the organ. The girl said she would consider handling a human leg bone on the display table, but the brain and lung available for touch would not be held in her young hands. She made her exit from the exhibit before she could be identified.

Mike Marcus, Carnegie Science Center’s assistant director of community affairs, said Bodies opened in October, and 300,000 people are expected to witness its displays before it closes  May, 4. Marcus said as many as 10,000 guests are viewing Bodies each weekend.

Marcus said the 15 bodies and 200 partial body specimens are the property of Premier Exhibitions of Atlanta. They were obtained from the Dalian Medical University in China. He said the bodies on display are unclaimed, and some are believed to have been political prisoners in China. Only those who died of natural causes are included in “Bodies,” according to information from the exhibit.

Marcus said the display has been featured in several U.S. cities, and there has been controversy. Marcus said, because of their own “personal or religious reasons,” some people have objected to the exhibit. “Bodies” has not been protested in Pittsburgh, Marcus said.

“Bodies” offers the public the opportunity to view the inner workings of anatomy and physiology as only medical students and practitioners could in the past. The goal is to provide a closer look at the skeletal, muscular, nervous and other body systems as well as offer insight into anatomy, physiology and the body’s common ailments.

“They’re real.” It’s the thought that continually enters the mind when viewing the muscles, bones, organs and entire bodies featured in the exhibit. It is difficult to look at the displays and not question Carnegie staff members. “So, is this one a model?” Marcus said guests often are compelled to ask.

“Bodies” opening display features what appears to be opposing cadavers holding hands. Marcus explained that the display is actually that of a skeleton facing its own intact muscles. It’s a powerful beginning to an exhibit that builds in momentum.

The most visually stunning portion of the tour is the section dedicated to the circulatory system. The circulatory system of a single body from its thighs to its neck is the highlight of that portion of the tour. The masses of veins and arteries resemble electrical wiring, and the display looks like a work of art. It may be difficult to look at the inner-working of a person who once was alive and describe it as beautiful. In this instance, it’s appropriate. 

Marcus said “Bodies” was intended to create a reaction. It does. Over and over people gasp or sigh at a particular display. Teens were repeatedly heard saying “that’s so gross,” or “it’s disgusting.”

A cancer-ridden lung has moved people so much that an accompanying display had to be added. It’s a glass case to hold the packs of cigarettes discarded by those who have just seen the decayed organ. Marcus said so many people are leaving their cigarettes the packs have to be removed every few days.

The fetal portion of the tour is the one that guests can bypass. Marcus said fetuses in varying stages of development beginning at four weeks is too much for some people. Teens appeared very interested in the fetal portion of the exhibit. Groups of students huddled around the clear tubes containing the tiny specimens, and they got within inches of them to see the smallest details.

Marcus said the “hands-on” portion of the exhibit is withheld until the end because of the reaction it receives. Guests are given the opportunity to hold human organs that have undergone polymer preservation. Preserved bones, a brain and a lung can be held by anyone who chooses to do so, and Marcus said it is entertaining to watch the responses.

He said those who are nervous make the most jokes. Others are not sure they want to touch the body parts, and they will stand several feet from the organs and consider the decision for as many as 10 minutes.

Carnegie staffers rotate shifts working each portion of the exhibit. Rachel Chunko, of Murrysville, said the conclusion of Bodies is her favorite assignment. On that particular day, however, she felt something was missing.

“It’s great to educate the public in such a hands on way,” she said. “The kids are very respectful, and it’s really interesting to see the very little ones ... We have a brain. I did have a heart. I wish we still had the heart. It was the best.”

Article Photos

“Bodies ... The Exhibition” opening display features what appears to be opposing cadavers holding hands. The display is actually that of a skeleton facing its own intact muscles.

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