How many neurons does the adult brain have?
How many times does the heart beat in an average life span?
How many muscles does it take to smile?
You’ll learn the answers to these and other fascinating facts about the human body — and be truly amazed in the process — when you visit Body Worlds & The Brain — Our Three Pound Gem: The Original Exhibition of Real Human Bodies at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Spending a couple of hours at this most unusual display of the wonders of the human body is the best anatomy and physiology lesson you’ll ever have.
There are more than 20 complete bodies and more than 200 real body specimens, all preserved by Plastination, a process invented by German anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens. The exhibit allows visitors to see inside the human body, learn how it works and how disease and life choices affect it.
A similar exhibit was staged in La Jolla last year, but it was “a copy-cat,” said Dr. Angelina Whalley, the show’s creator/designer. Hence the word “original” in the title of this one, which has been touring since 1995. (Other “genuine” von Hagens exhibits are showing in Tampa; London; Heidelberg, Germany; and Seville, Spain, and the turnstiles have counted more than 27 million visitors.)
Whalley, a native of Germany, met von Hagens in 1986 while studying to be a surgeon, and was fascinated by his method of preserving bodies. She and von Hagens eventually married, and today Whalley is responsible for planning and installing the exhibits, and designing the presentation of specimens, organs and bodies for “optimum aesthetic and teaching value.”
“The exhibit is laid out logically, so that visitors can tune in slowly,” she said. “It starts with the skeleton, because most people are familiar with that, then gradually introduces more specimens, up to the full body. We need to be cautious because some people haven’t even seen a body. We want visitors to be intrigued. By walking through the areas, you are guided through various systems.”
Should children see the exhibit and at what age?
“I strongly believe that no one else can decide but the parents,” Whalley said. “My personal experience is that it can be a great experience if the child is truly interested in finding out about the body. I believe it is particularly helpful for children because they are young and can find out how to take care of the body.”
The once surgeon-in-training said that she does not miss what might have been a medical career.
“The work I’m doing now is much more rewarding than if I were a physician,” she said. “When you look at visitors and how they react and the discussions with the family, you really see and feel that people gain a different view of themselves and what it’s like to become human.”
Von Hagens developed the process of Plastination after examining anatomical specimens that were encased in plastic blocks. He pondered why the plastic was poured around the specimen instead of injecting it into the cells, “which would stabilize the specimens from within and literally allow you to grasp it.”
That was in 1977, and he spent the next six years perfecting the process.
The first exhibit premiered in Japan in 1995, and through the years, has been subject to criticism.
But he believes the exhibits are a source of “enlightenment and contemplation,” and “open to interpretation, regardless of the background and philosophy of life of the viewer.”
Tickets for Body Worlds are from $11 to $27, depending on age and time of visit (peak times are more expensive).
By the way, the answers to the three questions above are 100 billion, 3 billion and 20.
For more information, visit www.bodyworlds.com and www.sdnhm.org.
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