Exhibit Reflection: Body Worlds Vital

Part of my recent Science North trip included seeing the Body Worlds Vital exhibit.  This exhibit is part of a series of Body Worlds exhibits featuring real human bodies that have been preserved using a processed called plastination.  Plastination was created by Dr. Gunther von Hagnes, and the resulting figures created through the process have been termed plastinates.  These plastinate bodies allow visitors to see the inner workings of real human bodies in a way that wasn’t previously possible. 

The primary gold of all the Body Worlds exhibits is to increase awareness about the human body and to provide opportunities for health and physical education.  Body Worlds Vital places emphasis on the potential of the human body and the body in motion.  In this exhibit a number of the plastinates are staged in athletic activities such as running, fencing, and dancing to highlight the development of muscle structures, the potential of a healthy body, and the general inter-workings of the vital system. 

Simply put, the exhibit far exceeded my exceptions.  The plastinates themselves are a remarkable mixture of art and science.  The staging of the plastinates in forms which highlight a variety of human activities and body functions allows for a range of educational opportunities.  The range of motion seen in the plastinates allowed for a variety of anatomical features to be highlighted, many of which I had little knowledge about before.  Similarly the placement of the plastinates allowed visitors to walk 360 degrees around them, allowing for all aspects of the human body to be seen. 

Additionally, the signage throughout the exhibit was really well done.  Each plastinate was accompanied by a textual explanation of what technique was used to render the plastinate and what parts of the body are being highlighted by the plastinate.  These textual explanations were accompanied by diagrams labeling muscles, bone structures, and major arteries.  The diagrams helped explain the plastinates and added to the educational component of the exhibit.  There was also oversize text and graphic panels with inspirational quotes relating to the human form throughout the exhibit.  These panels added to the reflective and respectful feel of the entire exhibit.  

The exhibit wasn’t overly busy when I was there.  This allowed for a nice leisurely pace and for me to read all the text and spend ample time looking at each plastinate.  In contrast to the rest of the Science Centre where loud talking and running around are the norm, the majority of visitors looking at this exhibit moved at a leisurely pace and were speaking in hushed tones.  This was most likely due to the subject matter combined with the mood lighting and slow paced background music.  The whole atmosphere of the exhibit helped contribute to the educational atmosphere. 

Have you been to a Body Worlds exhibit? Did you enjoy it?

Hands on Learning at Science North

This past weekend I spent the better part of the day at Science North.  I have fond memories of Science North from family outings as a child and my recent visit rekindled a lot of my enthusiasm for hands on learning. I work in an archive where most visitors have very little hands on exposure to the archival material.  Science North reminded me of the importance of interactive learning and making information accessible in creative ways.

One of my favourite parts of my visit included the floor dedicated to the landscape, animals, and ecosystems of Northern Ontario.  This floor includes a ‘forest lab’ with trees, a nocturnal room complete with flying squirrels, and a number of other common Northern Ontario animals.  The majority of the animals on this floor have spent their entire lives at Science North and are quite friendly — I actually saw a staff person petting a porcupine.  This floor also includes an ‘erosion table’ that I remember loving as a kid.  The erosion table is a giant sand and water table that allows children to see the impact of streams and running water on soil.  Lots of messy fun.  Overall, this floor allows visitors to see first hand distinct features of Northern Ontario’s landscape and to touch and feel a variety of Northern animals and plants.

One of the special exhibits currently at Science Norther is Wildfire! A Firefighting Adventure in 4D. This exhibit was created in conjunction with the Ministry of Natural Resource (MNR) and the Ontario government and focuses on the MNR’s forest fighting efforts.  The 3D movie and accompanying motion seats provide insight into the workings of water bombers and forest fighting ground crews work.  This was a really well done experience; though I do not recommend taking small children to to see Wildfire! as a couple of the smaller children in the audience found the experience on the frightening side.  The Wildfire! trailer can be seen here.

Overall, I like Science North because  it is truly a place for both kids and adults.  I went sans children and had a great time, but there are tons of activities for families with children.  Additionally, unlike the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, Science north is rarely swarming with visitors.  Adults can take their time enjoying the hands on stations without worrying about taking a child’s place.  Additionally, I found that I learned a surprising amount about Northern Ontario in a fun and interactive way.  The visit to Science North was well worth the trip to Sudbury.

American History Through Currency

I was recently sucked into some guilty pleasure TV.  Yes, I will admit to watching the History Television Pawn Stars.   Despite the lack of real historical content the program did contain mention of the educational currency series which existed in the United States in the 890s.  Being the history lover that I am, I wrote myself a sticky note to research this interesting bit of history.

The educational series was a set of silver certificates created in 1878.  The bills in the series depicted various scenes which are atypical to currency.  The images on the currency highlighted artwork, historical figures, and scientific innovation. These notes were back the government’s stockpile of silver, and could be redeemed for silver at the Treasury.  This series went out of circulation when the silver redemption program was stopped in 1968.

The term educational series grew out of the fact that images on the bills had the potential to educate the general populace about American history, science, and politics. Three bills were created as part of this series:

A one dollar bill entitled “History Instructing Youth”.  This bill showed the ‘goddess of history’ instructing a young person in the history of the United States.  The bill also includes the constitution and names of famous Americans.

A two dollar bill titled “Science presenting steam and electricity to Commerce and Manufacture”. This note uses art to highlight the impact of steam and electricity on the American economy and development.

A five dollar bill entitled “Electricity as the Dominant Force in the World”.  Similar to the two dollar note, this bill uses women to depict electricity.  Some controversy was raised of the artistic merits of this bill, as it featured to women with bare breasts.

This series is by far the most interesting type of currency I have ever seen.  It is reminiscent of classical artwork and touches on themes far outside the range of normal currency.