Thursday, December 31, 2009

Body Worlds "Too"

As a holiday present, my lovely wife bought us tickets to the new Body Worlds exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  This is the second showing of a Body Worlds exhibit at the Franklin, and this "BodyWorlds2" is supposed to have a special emphasis on the brain (thus, despite our having seen the first exhibit several years ago, the wife and I thought we would enjoy going to see this exhibit as well).  I have to say that we did enjoy both trips to the "Body Worlds", and if you haven't yet seen one of these exhibits, I highly recommend it.  (If you have no idea what BodyWorlds is, you can check out their website here.)  The preservation techniques and the human specimens (as well as those of sheep, horses, camels and other animals) really are stunning, and give you a first-hand look at several different facets of anatomy that you could only get in a college (or really graduate level) anatomy lab. In many cases, you wouldn't get such a clean or clear cut look from a med school cadaver as you do in many of these "plastinates" (like in the images below which show a specimen where only the blood vessels are preserved, and another where all of the nerve tracts have been preserved). 
My only gripes about the exhibit were (a), if you've seen it before, there really weren't that many new specimens than the first exhibit (thus my desire to change the title to BodyWorlds " Too"), and (b) for an exhibit that was supposed to be focused on the brain and the nervous system, I was disappointed at the lack of emphasis on neuroanatomy.  It seemed to me like we were basically seeing the normal BodyWorlds exhibit, but with a few posters here and there to tell us about some of the things going on in the brain (like how emotions seem to be predominantly processed in the limbic system, or how music can stimulate many areas of the brain, etc.)  These posters however were oviously not the highlight of the show, and in many cases seemed to be only an afterthought, which was evidenced by the fact that there did not seem to be any sort of unifying theme, or reasonable order in which they were presented (many of the ones that actually pointed out brain structures were well after, and in completely different rooms from the actual brain specimens, and most of them were poorly showcased and off to the side).  At the risk of using (or misusing) one of the buzzwords of the past decade, I think the Franklin missed out on a great "teachable moment", and I don't think anyone leaving that exhibit will have any real grasp of even the most fundamental and important concepts in neuroscience (or in neuroanatomy).  That being said, the exhibit is still worth seeing, and you will definitely learn some interesting bits and facts here and there, but I think mainly the purpose is to inspire awe at the human form and to excite viewers to want to learn more about biology, medicine, and anatomy.  In this respect, I think that the show truly succeeds, but then, we already know that I love biology, so maybe I am biased.

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