Bodies of evidence about anatomy

Fascinating bodies of evidence

April 23, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD

I have just returned from seeing Body Worlds 2, the popular exhibit at the Maryland Science Center that uses real bodies to display the human anatomy and makes us realize it's a good thing we have flesh covering our insides, or we'd all look like extras in a George Romero movie.

The bodies are preserved by a process called plastination, which involves extracting bodily fluids and soluble fat and replacing them with polymers, something half of Hollywood is probably looking into right now.

There has been some controversy surrounding Body Worlds, mainly rumors that some of the body donations have not exactly been voluntary.

But the Body Worlds people deny this and say all the bodies are from people who bequeathed them for educational purposes. Which makes sense, because just signing all the consent forms would probably kill you anyway.

So we wandered around looking at body parts for the better part of two hours: healthy body parts, diseased body parts, body parts exposed to trauma.

Hey, it was the weekend! Who doesn't like to unwind by looking at a kidney riddled with kidney stones or a spine curved at an ungodly angle under sectional lighting?

At one point, we ran into the scourge of all museum visitors, namely, the person who insists on loudly explaining each exhibit to the members of her party.

In this case, it was a trim, energetic woman in her 40s with a speaking voice that could be heard in Vermont.

At each display, she would lock into position in front of the little information plaque, boxing out her friends like an NBA center.

Then she'd begin to read aloud such tidbits as: "This specimen also illustrates hexadactylism, six fingers and six toes on each hand and foot. Hexadactylism is a relatively common birth defect."

After a few minutes of this, I wished that the relatively common birth defect of hearing impairment had been passed on to me.

Instead, we decided to linger at one of the exhibits until Ms. Foghorn and her friends moved on and were out of earshot, which took plenty of lingering, let me tell you.

If you're a smoker, you may want to skip the diseased lung exhibit, although I wouldn't recommend stepping outside for a smoke when you do.

This is one of the more fascinating exhibits, displaying as it does the diseased lungs of a smoker and a coal miner side-by-side.

The smoker's lungs look terrible, dark and mottled. But the coal miner's lungs look even worse, blacker than an old rotary phone.

It made you wonder what the lungs of a coal miner who smoked looked like.

Thankfully, those weren't displayed. On the other hand, if you put the smoker's lungs on the counters of every convenience store in America, no one would ever buy another pack of Marlboros.

Another interesting exhibit was called "Smells like Teen Spirit" and discussed the delayed formation of the adolescent brain, which "may be responsible for an increased desire for speed, danger and rebellion ... but also makes teens unconventional, creative and daring thinkers."

It showed pictures of well-known figures throughout history, along with a brief history of what each had accomplished as a teenager, such as "Joan of Arc, 17, leads French troops in battle against the English at the Siege of Orleans," and "Jane Austen, 14, writes her first novel, and later Pride and Prejudice," and "Bill Gates, 14, is excused from math classes to pursue his interest in computer programming, forms a company with Paul Allen, and earns $20,000 that year."

And I can't get my 16-year-old to take out the garbage.

Finally, our visit to Body Worlds 2 came to an end. And of course it ended, as required by law these days, in the gift shop.

There you could buy Body Worlds T-shirts, caps, posters, books and DVDs. You could even buy a mouse pad with a picture of a diseased lung and the message: "Mind if I smoke? Care if I die?"

Maybe it wasn't as effective as plopping a big old smoker's lung next to your computer.

But it was probably the next best thing.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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