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Body Worlds

I went on Friday to see the Body Worlds 3 exhibit at OMSI. The exhibit is composed of many hundreds of "plastinated" pieces (it's exactly what it sounds like) ranging from individual organs up to complete human bodies in athletic or artistic poses presented in varying levels of dissection.

Be prepared to spend a lot of time at this exhibit. The materials at the museum stated most people took about 90 minutes to go through it. Jacque and I were there for three hours and had to rush at the end because we needed to leave.

If you are unfamiliar with anatomy, you will learn much. If you do know anatomy, you will still marvel at the presentation. Photographs and illustrations of the human body are totally inferior to viewing one in three dimensions.

The musculoskeletal displays are compelling. I was fascinated by an arm and hand showing all the muscles and tendons, and used it to show Jacque why a particular motion is impossible. Place your hands together so that your fingernails and first knuckles of your four fingers are touching, with your thumbs' sides and wrists also touching. Leaving everything else in place, point your index fingers forward (so the pads touch instead of the fingernails) and then you should be easily able to open and close a gap between them. Return your index fingers to the original position and try next with your middle fingers. It also works for your pinkies, but you'll find that it's impossible to do this with your ring fingers! If you want to know why, go to Body Worlds and look closely. :)

The most interesting displays for me were those of the circulatory system alone, with other tissues removed. They had a few whole-body animal examples of this in which some internal organs (lungs, liver) were especially prominent, and had a human head example as well. It's amazing to see the vessels for the scalp, and for the brain, and a gap between them where the skull would be. You have to slowly move your head as you look at these to get a proper sense of depth for understanding the sections further away from the skin. Some of these examples show surprisingly fine blood vessels.

Among some of the other highlights are a straightened digestive tract, side-by-side comparisons of diseased and healthy tissues, and a plastinated camel. There were a handful of medical devices included in the exhibit; an artificial hip joint and artificial heart valve as installed. There were several brains and very many brain slices, so be sure to tell your zombie friends.

The posed displays each have a different emphasis and the dissections vary, from getting a view into body cavities to seeing how organs fit together in the limited space to focusing on the muscles and joints. Several show multiple layers of dissection, or have whole sections moved away from others for better viewing.

Visitors can optionally rent a hand-held unit to get audio commentary on most of the specimens; this is absolutely worthwhile as a guide to appreciate what you're looking at, although if you have at least a high-school-level understanding of anatomy you may not learn much from the commentary.

If you're squeamish about sexuality you should know that most of the whole-body specimens are male, and everything is present. On the females they always left the nipples covered, although I don't know whether it was merely uncolored plastinated skin or some more deliberate kind of cover. (Most of the skinless specimens still had lips and navels, but they looked original, whereas the nipples looked wrong.)

I did notice several specimens were missing the backs of several thoracic vertebrae but there was no one around to ask why. I believe all the eyes I saw, except possibly one pair, were artificial. These did not detract from the experience.

This is a great exhibit, but it's leaving OMSI in early October, so see it while you have the chance.


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