Hands-on display is fun for kids and educational for everyone

October 10, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

In an average lifetime, you will breathe more than 75 million gallons of air - about 1 1/2 times the total capacity of the airship Hindenburg.

Your intestines will process 40 tons of food.

You will take 1 billion steps, walking about 77,000 miles.

These are just a few of the interesting tidbits featured in a display at Valley Mall presented by Discovery Station at Hagerstown Inc.

"Inside Out: The Visible Human" is a part of the National Library of Medicine's Visible Human Project. Featuring photographs and hands-on activities, the displays are imaginative, informative and within a child's reach.

"We're providing a path of extended learning," said B. Marie Byers, chairwoman of the board of directors of Discovery Station at Hagerstown Inc.


There are microscopes where tissue from skin, bone, nerves, muscles, the stomach, the brain and other body parts can be viewed.

The "What's Hiding Inside?" display has openings for a child's face and hands. While a child touches models of the circulatory, skeletal and muscular systems, he can see in an opposing mirror where the structures would be on his body.

A vertical, solid rectangle is divided into sections that can be turned to match up photographs of various segments of the body.

My 4-year-old was fascinated by a hologram display.

"You can see your body, what it looks like. You can see your bones," she said.

Her older brother appreciated photos of the bone structure in a jaw.

"Cool. It looks like you can look inside his head and see what's inside his jaw," he said. After looking at the display a few minutes, he added, "Teeth don't look like that from the outside."

Some of the images look three-dimensional. They were printed on plastic with 250 vertical lenses per inch. Your right eye and your left eye see different sets of exposures, which produces a three-dimensional effect.

Two brief videos, "Virtual Man" and "Virtual Surgery/Real Patients," explain the project and why it is beneficial to the medical community.

The photographs are of Joseph Paul Jernigan's body. Jernigan was convicted of murder and executed in a Texas prison in 1993. He chose to donate his body to science, but because Texas executes criminals by lethal injection, his organs could not be used for medical transplants.

Jernigan was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 199 pounds at the time of his death. His body was scanned in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, which produces images with a powerful magnetic field. Then the whole body received a CT scan, which uses X-rays to produce computerized images. The body was frozen, cut into quarters and positioned in blocks of blue-tinted gelatin. The blocks were photographed. Then a wafer-thin layer was sliced off, and the block was photographed again. This process was repeated more than 1,800 times.

The images were assembled so they can be viewed separately or in sections from infinite angles and combinations. Doctors can compare their patients' CT scan photos to those of the Virtual Human and at some point may be able to use a computer simulator to rehearse procedures prior to entering an operating room.

Technology education students at Northern Middle School, their parents and teacher Mark Kaniski helped to set up the display, which is on loan from the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore. It is underwritten by Washington County Health Systems, hosted by Valley Mall, with contributions from Antietam Cable and the Washington County Medical Society Alliance.

There will be a reception today at 7 p.m. by the exhibit, which is near the entrance to Sears.

The exhibit can be viewed through Sunday, Oct. 26, during mall hours, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information about the Visible Human Project, go to on the Web.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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