Are you local or in town? Have you been to the Arizona Science Center lately? Their Body Worlds exhibit is only there through May 30, and you should totally check it out. And either way, they have four floors of good stuff.
This was originally published in the print edition of this month's Times Publications. Pick one up, if you get a chance.
With a look of pure fascination, my son stared at the man's gluteus maximus.
I watched my son as he stared. I swelled with pride.
Wait. Let me back up. I should probably tell you that the gluteus maximus in question belongs to Soccer Player, one of the preserved bodies on display at "Body Worlds and the Brain." Soccer Player, and over 200 other real human specimens, are available for fascinated adults and kids to view until May 30 at the Arizona Science Center.
I was proud, and happy, because I was witnessing the fascination and thirst for knowledge that my son constantly shows, and because the Arizona Science Center is a perfect match for the curiosity that is so natural for children.
Of course, taking a kid to the center gives you a perfect excuse to indulge your own curiosity.
"Body Worlds" is just one of the featured exhibitions at the Arizona Science Center. You can easily spend an entire day here, taking in IMAX features, planetarium presentations, and four floors of interactive science galleries.
Upon first entering this exhibit, we noticed the skulls, brains, and full skeleton near the entrance -- but the first thing I caught was the mood of the place. Almost reverent. No one was snickering. No one was repulsed. No one was bored. Everyone seemed enthralled. This is the stuff that makes us us. My son and I will not get very many opportunities to see the stretch and form of the muscles of a soccer player, or the intricate branching of a complete, real nervous system. We took full advantage of this opportunity. There’s no re-entry to the exhibit once you go in, but you can take as long as you wish. No one was in a hurry to leave.
My son's favorite was X-Woman, a woman displayed with many of her systems and organs expanded, so viewers could see how it all fits together. He's still telling all his classmates about it. In several cases the body cavities are opened and layers are cut away, so you can see the organs in context. My husband is diabetic, and my son identified the pancreas in several displays. We were making real-life connections.
The bodies in "Body Worlds" are individuals who agreed to donate their bodies to science.
Know your own and your family's interests and limitations for this exhibit. These are dead (though permanently chemically preserved) humans. Just about any organ you can imagine is shown in great detail. One less-prominent section shows fetuses at different developmental stages. I have heard some people are bothered by parts of the exhibit, but everyone I saw this weekend was captivated. My son is nine years old, and was one of the youngest at the exhibit, though there were several who were younger.
The cool part about this, for us and all the families I met that day, is the authenticity. This is real science. It fascinates. It sparks the imagination. It makes kids (and adults) want to know more.
If "Body Worlds" isn't your speed, or you're itching for more, there is plenty.
Lie on a bed of nails. This -- once he worked up the nerve -- was David's second-favorite interactive exhibit. The nails are real, so that means real bragging rights. Kids all but forget they're learning about distribution of weight.
Ride a bike on a high-wire. The Evans Family SkyCycle, suspended on a 90-foot cable nearly 15 feet in the air, illustrates center of gravity and counterbalance. You can feel as though you're about to plummet -- and David did -- but it's impossible to actually fall. This was the one that bumped the bed of nails to number two. You'd have thought he had just been on a roller coaster. (Special props to the very patient folks operating this one. They somehow both made it seem daring and then reassured my son once he got "stuck" out on the cable.)
Use a heartbeat drum, which beats and lights up according to your pulse. Walk through a giant stomach, complete with sounds and smells, and slide out the end. Visitors can see how smoking and exercise affect the body, watch a larger-than-life IMAX movie about the human body, or be sneezed on by a giant nose (a huge hit with younger visitors). At the entrance, kids look through "Curiouser and Curiouser," a Phoenix public-art installation that shows science videos to the user while projecting his or her eye, giant-sized, from a telescope hanging from the center's ceiling.
We're big on science in this family, so the Arizona Science Center was a perfect match. But more than that, it's just plain fun.
The Arizona Science Center is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit their site for more information.
All photos taken by me at the Arizona Science Center. Visitor photos are not allowed in the Body Worlds exhibit; these are used with permission and all link back to the Center's Body Worlds page. (Don't worry; you'll be too busy looking with your eyes anyway.) You can snap away elsewhere!