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Thursday, April 21, 2005 05:29 pm

excursions 4-21-05

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PHOTO BY TODD SPIVAK

Learning about the human body may conjure bad memories of impenetrably thick textbooks, anatomy charts with words too big to pronounce, and a creepy skeleton hanging in the corner of a classroom.

Forget all that.

A museum exhibit now showing in Chicago offers a unique opportunity to more readily understand and appreciate the vast complexities of the human body.

Body Worlds: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies showcases 200 authentic human specimens preserved through a process called plastination.

In this technology, invented by a German doctor in the late 1970s, the body’s water and fat are replaced with reactive plastics. All tissue structures are retained, allowing viewers to witness the body’s actual organs and systems.

Much of the exhibit highlights the ravaging effects of diseases. The exhibit features ovarian and brain cancers, stomach ulcers, hernias, liver cirrhosis, and heart disease.

Compare a healthy pink lung with one tarred from nicotine; a healthy knee, looking supple and smooth, with a jagged arthritic knee. See a spinal column so severely deformed that it resembles a pretzel.

The exhibit is fascinating and frequently poignant. It may inspire some to shed their bad habits and lead others to deepen their empathy for those living with illness.

Body Worlds runs through Sept. 5 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Admission to the museum and the exhibit is $21 for adults, $11 for children ages 3-11, and $17 for seniors. Reduced rates are available during evening hours. Admission includes a complimentary screening of The Human Body, a film shown inside the museum’s Omnimax theater. For more information, call 773-684-1414 or visit www.msichicago.org.

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