Body Worlds 2 gets under people’s skin

Sarika Jagtiani

Clevelanders get up close and personal with human body thanks to the Science Center

Credit: Beth Rankin

If Super Size Me wasn’t enough to make you rethink your fast-food habit, the Great Lakes Science Center’s BODY WORLDS 2 exhibit just might help.

BODY WORLDS 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies has been attracting the young and old alike to the Science Center since April and will continue to do so until the exhibit ends Sept. 18.

“We are exceeding our expectations,” said the Science Center’s marketing director Trish Rooney.

The exhibit features more than 200 human specimens culled from 6,000 living and 300 deceased body donors. Walking through the spacious exhibit, one can view entire bodies, single organs and transparent body slices, which have already toured Los Angeles and Chicago.

Visitors can learn what goes on under their own skin, whether it be in the 27 bones and 37 skeletal muscles in their hands or in the different hemispheres of their brain.

This viewing is possible because of plastination, a process invented by Dr. Gunther von Hagens, creator of BODY WORLDS 2. Plastination replaces bodily fluids and fat with materials such as polyester and silicone rubber, allowing scientists to preserve decomposable specimens.

After seeing the exhibit in Los Angeles, the center’s president and executive director, Linda Abraham-Silver, decided to pursue the exhibit for Cleveland. One of the reasons Abraham-Silver pursued this exhibit was because of the city’s extensive medical community, Rooney said. Wellness and health experts have been involved with medical students and doctors volunteering in the exhibit, answering visitors’ questions and providing insight.

Rooney said the exhibit is especially popular with the 18 to 34 demographic, probably because people in this age bracket are particularly aware of and interested in their bodies and health.

“You get to see a healthy lung compared to a smoker’s lung and a coal miner’s lung,” said visitor Michelle Sprychak Roth, 29. “When you see the actual organs and specimens, it really motivates you to stay healthy. Usually, you can’t put a visual with a disease because it’s internal, but this makes it real.”

According to Rooney, Roth’s reaction to the exhibit isn’t unique. Rooney said the exhibit affects people in one of two ways: either it has a spiritual effect or people are moved to take better care of themselves.

Visitors commenting on the spiritual say that the bodies are so complex, so remarkable, that it could not be an accident, Rooney said.

For those interested in the health aspect of the exhibit, it’s hard to say whether the arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) sample, the fatty liver sample or the obese man sample caused visitors’ newfound interest in healthful living.

“What sticks out the most were the samples comparing a heavy man to a thin man,” said Roth. “You can really see the excess fat and how it just covers the organs and everything.”

This part of the exhibit showed parts of a 300-pound man next to a 120-pound man. And because the plastination allowed for fat tissues to be preserved in their “natural white color,” according to the exhibit’s display, viewers could see what the extra 180 pounds looked like.

The exhibit’s displays have drawn scores of visitors who had never been to the Science Center before ­—in fact, 55 percent of BODY WORLDS 2 visitors are first-timers to the museum. But the displays are not for everybody.

Although Janeice Haywood, 20, said this is the most popular exhibit she’s seen as a guest service associate at the center, it’s not her cup of tea.

“If you don’t have a strong stomach, this is not the place for you,” said Haywood.

Roth agreed with Haywood.

“I wouldn’t recommend eating right before you visit.”

Contact general assignment reporter Sarika Jagtiani at [email protected].