“Bodies: The Exhibition” uncovers the mysteries of the human body by literally uncovering real human bodies.
Currently on display at the Westfield University Towne Center, the exhibit features more than 250 specimens that showcase the anatomy and physiology of the human body. Visitors proceed through a series of galleries that illustrate the function of the skeletal, muscular, nervous, digestive, respiratory, circulatory and reproductive systems. The specimens range from individual organs to whole bodies that have been preserved through a chemical process.
Despite inherent shock value - these are real human bodies dissected to reveal anatomic detail - Dr. Roy Glover, the medical director for the exhibit, said it is designed to be an educational experience.
“This doesn’t look like a morgue,” Glover said. “This doesn’t look like a lab. It looks like a place where people come and learn.”
Covering 25,000 square feet, the exhibit resembles an art gallery or trendy retail venue. Displays are arranged in spacious galleries, dramatically highlighted by discreet overhead lighting. Some of the specimens appear to have been artistically composed, and the full-size bodies are positioned in action poses such as throwing a ball or running mid-stride.
Small plaques beside each specimen provide information and biological factoids are mounted on the walls, creating a comprehensive yet simple learning environment. An information desk provides samples that can be handled, and staff members to answer questions visitors may have.
The San Diego exhibition is the company’s seventh such production. Since 2004, more than 4 million people have visited shows in Europe and North America. The New York exhibit alone attracted more than 1 million visitors.
A close look at the bodies identifies their Asian heritage. The unclaimed cadavers - men and women of various ages -- are donated to a Chinese medical school and the bodies are then used for learning and education.
Polymer preservation uses a liquid silicone rubber to permanently preserve the bodies. After anatomists temporarily halt decay with chemicals, the bodies are dissected to expose anatomical structures. The water is then removed and replaced with acetone. A liquid silicone mixture is applied to the body in a vacuum chamber. After the specimens are affixed or posed in a specific posture, the polymer is hardened. This process can take up to a full year.
The final specimen is durable and odorless, and Glover said every organ in the body except the eyes can be preserved this way. With care, the specimens can last years.
“It feels like a rubber ball,” he said of the final texture.
By revealing the mysteries of the human body and the ravages of poor health habits such as smoking, drinking and eating a high-fat diet, Glover, spokesman for Premier Exhibitions, Inc., an Atlanta-based company that organized the exhibit, hopes visitors will think twice about how they treat their bodies.
“I want them to take better care of themselves, and they can do that by learning how beautiful it is,” Glover said. "[They] have to see the consequences of their behavior. Seeing is believing. The body doesn’t lie.”
Exhibit guidelines suggest that kids be accompanied by a teacher or parent, but Glover said the content is appropriate for children.
Glover, a medical educator for more than 30 years, was instrumental in developing the educational components and layout of the exhibit. He said great attention was given to every detail to create an environment that would prompt discussions about the body and engage children’s natural curiosity. The skeletal system is intentionally the first gallery people visit, since most people have seen a skeleton before, whether real or fake. The poses reflect actions and movements visitors will have experienced themselves.
“The kids are engaged by the specimens,” Glover said. “It allows them to talk more efficiently about movement and exercise. It’s a great way for parents to talk to their kids about the body.”
Glover, an advocate for healthy living, believes the exhibit promotes awareness in a way lectures and artificial models cannot. And he said kids need to get the message early on to prevent health complications later in life.
“The body as a whole is something we need to understand,” Glover said. “Kids need to learn now about their bodies. We need to have kids understand the impact of their behaviors.”
Unveiling “Bodies” is more than a job for Glover.
“I wanted to get more into the public arena of education because I thought it was important,” he said. “You have to commit yourself to something that makes a difference, and this exhibit makes a difference.”
“Bodies: The Exhibition” is on display through Sept. 9. Tickets are $18 to $32.50. An optional audio tour is available. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (877) BODIES-5 or visit www.bodiestheexhibition.com.