A white, flattened spinal cord showed delicate tendrils of nerve and bone that captivated math teacher Julianne Russell.
Wow, thats amazing, she said as she gazed into the display case at the Discovery Center of Idahos Bodies Revealed exhibit Wednesday. I didnt realize it would look like that.
You imagine it as this entirely electrical system, but there really are little cords that run through it, Russell said. You can see everything.
There were wows and ah-has throughout the exhibition hall as Russell, who teaches math at St. Josephs Catholic School in Boise, and about 200 other teachers from across the Treasure Valley previewed the exhibit that opens this weekend.
Bodies promises to be a blockbuster that the Discovery Center best known as a place to take the kids on a rainy weekend hopes will position it for growth, galvanize its volunteers and expand its audience and role in the community, says Executive Director Janine Boire.
BODIES IN BOISE
The show from Premier Exhibitions, the worlds largest presenter of museum-style touring shows, features real human bodies to provide insight into how the body works. In addition to 12 full-body specimens, there are more than 150 organs and partial specimens to fascinate you, including diseased lungs and examples of the circulatory system.
The specimens expose a variety of common ailments from heart disease to cancer and let visitors see inside muscles, nerves and veins. Some show how artificial joints connect to human bones.
Its pretty cool, said Brian Browning, 16, a Boise High student and volunteer docent. I like looking at the muscles and especially the ones that have the prosthetics.
Rather than leaning toward the macabre, the exhibit focuses on the natural curiosity people have to see and explore something theyve never seen before the inside of their bodies.
Its a great idea to see firsthand what we are inside and learn about diseases, said Ariel Fuentealba, who works with migrant students at Melba Elementary. It would be great to bring my students. In my program, the kids have limited experience. They see one way of living and if they dont get out and see more, they dont know the possibilities.
A DIFFERENT EXHIBIT
One of Premiers sister exhibits, Bodies: The Exhibition, was in Idaho Falls in 2011. The Boise exhibit is a different set of specimens, says Mike D. W. Smith, the head of Premiers four-man installation team that came to Boise.
Anyone seeing that show will have a very different experience with this one, he said.
Smith and company rolled into Boise Sept. 20 with four semis of equipment and specimens.
The bodies take special preparation. Polymer preservation uses plastics to replace water and fat in the bodies. The specimens feel dry to the touch and can be either rigid or flexible, depending on the mix of chemicals used.
The technique has been around since the 1970s, and these kinds of shows are not without controversy, mostly about the sources for the bodies.
After rumors and media scrutiny, Premier changed suppliers and now includes a disclaimer in its press material.
Our suppliers have confirmed that all of the bodies and organ specimens in Bodies Revealed came from individuals who chose to donate their bodies to accredited medical universities in the Peoples Republic of China, it said. It also noted that Asia possesses the largest and most highly competent group of dissectors in the world.
A GOOD FIT
Installing the exhibit in the Discovery Centers relatively small space was tricky, Smith said.
We have to be creative, he said. (Smaller) markets provide challenges, but they also leave you with something very unique. This is not a cookie-cutter show.
He leaned on the small army of volunteers who help Discovery Center exhibit director Bill Molina build all his exhibits.
It came together fairly quickly, says Smith, who installs Bodies-style exhibits and Premier shows on King Tut, the Titanic and pirate treasure all over the world. The next stop for his team is Slovenia.
He appreciated Idahos climate.
Paint dries fast in Boise, he said. Thats important because we can get things done faster. In Texas, where we were a while ago, it might never dry.
The Bodies Revealed exhibit is the largest traveling show in the Discovery Centers 23-year history, Director Boire said.
It takes up about half of the centers 12,000 square feet of exhibit space. And its mobilizing the centers volunteers and building community support.
Boire tapped into the Junior League of Boise one of the organizations that helped found the center to help find and train volunteers.
For the league, the exhibit offered a chance to link its current focus on Boise States Science, Technology, Engineering and Math initiative to its longstanding connection to the Discovery Center, said League member Moya Shatz Dolsby, who helped coordinate training.
I think its reinvigorating the volunteers in the process, said Christopher Bower of Meridian, a BSU student whos been helping at the Discovery Center for more than a year. Yes, we have the exhibits that refresh every six months or so, but this is so much more and its awesome to be a part of it. Im proud.
The content of Bodies Revealed is light years away from the classic Discovery Center fare hands-on science stations such as the tornado machine and Bubble Wall.
It pushes the comfort zone, Bower says. But I think thats how we really learn. Thats what it takes to grow.
Boire hopes the show expands the science centers appeal.
Families with kids between 5 and 12 will always be key for us, but were not just for kids, she said. In fact, many of the traveling science exhibits are more geared to docs and post-docs than tots, and because of the way the world works now, everyone has to have a better understanding of the world and a lifelong curiosity.
This show is a test, Boire says, to see if the center can handle the logistics of something this size and intensity.
The last big exhibit, Grossology, was popular with the community but left the center with a deficit. So, the center is trying something different charging a premium ticket price for what Boire calls a premium experience.
If its successful, Boire would like to use the momentum to explore expanding the centers building and creating an exhibit hall that can handle more sophisticated traveling shows, she says.
Well see how the community responds, she said. Were 23 years old now and its time to launch.
Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland