Observing the magic of “Body Worlds Decoded”
October 26, 2017
Real human bodies and organs are meticulously posed and displayed around the room as visitors marvel at their vibrant red flesh. No, these aren’t the torture chambers of some maniacal scientist—they are the works of Body Worlds, an organization in the business of preserving human specimen for educational purposes. The Body Worlds Decoded exhibit at the Tech Museum of Innovation opened Oct. 15 with the mission of teaching its visitors about human anatomy.
The faint of heart need not worry about viewing the exhibit, as careful consideration went into its creation. The walls are curved to block visitors from accidentally stumbling onto the unwelcome sight of a fleshy human posed to look like a baseball player mid-bat.
However, the specimen are not generally gruesome sights. I didn’t even realize they were real human bodies until it was explicitly pointed out to me. Knowledge of this materiality does make them take on an extra visceral quality, but it’s the kind of feeling you get when you see an accident on the freeway. You just can’t look away.
The featured bodies underwent a process called “plastination,” a unique process that replaces bodily fluids and soluble fats with fluid plastics in order to ensure their preservation. The lifelike poses the bodies are fixed into before being hardened demonstrate how the human body responds internally to movements in everyday life. As you walk through the museum, you can see the muscles being used by an opera singer, a boxer and even what happens to lungs after smoking.
“Having a good mix of specimens was important,” Exhibit Content Designer Lisa Incatasciato said. “There was that balance of is this too shocking versus does this spark conversation or show what we want to show anatomically.”
Some may have ethical qualms about the use of human bodies in an exhibit like this. But rest assured, this is not some sketchy carnival show. Santa Clara’s own Markkula Center for Applied Ethics played a hand in answering ethical questions for the San Jose exhibit. The top priority for everyone involved in the planning process was to create an exhibit that would be physically and cognitively accessible for everyone.
This is how the augmented reality (AR) comes into play. Using “Iris,” the Tech Museum’s custom AR system, visitors can literally step inside a heart or an eyeball. When you first check into the exhibit, you’ll receive a handheld device that’ll guide you through various points of interest. It’s sort of like Pokemon Go, but instead of catching Pikachu you get to examine internal organs and systems. Which, arguably, is way cooler than Pokemon Go.
Those who’d prefer to go without the AR element can still enjoy a full experience. But the AR adds an immersive level of context to the whole experience that’s hard to beat.
“It’ll be really interesting to see how people respond to the AR and how they use it,” Incatasciato said. “Hopefully we can be a test bed for AR developers who can come and see how the public reacts to it.”
There will be plenty of chances to make your way over to the Tech Museum for this unique experience. The exhibit is expected to complete a 10-year run, an unprecedented commitment for both Body Worlds (a traveling exhibit) and the Tech Museum. Expect to make multiple trips back to the museum as the specimen are switched out to highlight different aspects of human anatomy.
“The pieces themselves were chosen aesthetically and for what they can show you about body systems,” Incatasciato said. “Even if you’re not interested in anatomy, by the time you leave you’ll see there’s something here for everyone.”
Contact Perla Luna at pluna@scu. edu or call (408) 554-4852.