By Richard Oletsky ’15 and Ahmed Sultan ‘15
With a brain faster than a supercomputer and thousands of miles of blood vessels to keep the heart pumping, the human body is a vast network of systems, functions, and processes, and is one of the most complex mechanisms in the world. Ms. Jessica Ross, Ms. Margaret Desimone, and their AP Biology and Anatomy/Physiology students received the opportunity to visit the Body Worlds: Pulse exhibit in Times Square on May 27, in order to learn more about how the body works.
Upon arrival, a movie clip played on a large screen in a dark room, which showed the stresses that the human body endures almost every day, and how it deals with these stresses. After the clip, the classes were advised that cell phones and flash photography were not allowed, and were allowed entry into the exhibit.
The exhibit became a long, cascading hallway, which showcased the different organ systems and how each system plays a role in dealing with stress. A display case described the functions of the heart and brain, which play the biggest roles in regulating our bodies. It also described how these two organs regulate stress the most, and how too much stress can lead to diseases such as cancers, stroke, and cardiovascular disease (the top cause of death in America today).
“The purpose of this trip was to expand the learning of the students,” said Ms. Desimone. “It’s better for students to get a hands on experience, so the other teachers and I figured it was a good idea to bring them to the exhibit showcase, so they can see in person/detail what they are learning about in class.”
Stress can be caused by a lot of things, and a common stress relievers is smoking cigarettes. The next portion of the exhibit, the respiratory system, shows what happens to the body after smoking. The display case compared a healthy lung, trachea, and diaphragm (all used to regulate breathing) to a smoker’s organs. The healthy lung was filled with pink, soft tissue, which would make breathing easier, while the smoker’s lung showed swelling, and was hard and filled with black, gooey tar. It turns out that smoking is one of the biggest causes of cancer in the world, and despite people’s knowledge of this, they cannot stop because it’s simply too addicting.
“I was glad that they had a big focus on the dangers of things such as smoking,” said Zachary Feinstein. “However, I was surprised as to the effects smoking has on the lungs and other body parts.”
Another form of stress relieving is eating, which leads to the next organ system, the digestive system. First, the display cases showed a healthy digestive system, with all of its organs intact. It also had an unraveled small intestine, which was over 20 feet long! However, over-eating due to stress is the cause of one of the most severe problems in America today: obesity. The types of food that people find stress-relieving are those that have high concentrations of sugar and fat. Because of the chemical structure of the sugars and fats, the brain sends out pleasure-causing hormones that relieve one’s stress. This is why you’re happier eating a tub of ice cream than a healthy salad.
To help understand why obesity is so prevalent in America, a wall showed different types of foods that are consumed in various countries. For example, people in the United States eat lots of fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks and drinks, while people in Egypt eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and meat. The wall also showed how much money people in different countries spend on food each week. For example, the average Indian family spends up to $68 in food per week, compared to the average American family, which spends a staggering $341 per week! Next to the wall, a display showed the dangers of obesity, which includes stomach ulcers, tumors, and diabetes.
“I always knew that Americans eat lots of sugary and unhealthy fatty foods,” said Miriam Gabay ’15. “However, I never realized just how bad the foods are in America compared to other countries. This portion of the exhibit definitely altered my perspective on the way we eat as Americans.”
A final stress reliever is sex, which is the first positive stress reliever portrayed in this exhibit. This portion of the exhibit showed the reproductive systems, where the different organs of females and males were shown. Next to these stood up to fifteen glass cases to show a developing baby in the womb. The first one showed a baby at five weeks after conception, where the baby was the size of an ant, all the way to its birth.
Between the displays of stress, real human bodies were shown in glass casings doing various things. These bodies were skinned and positioned to show daily activities such as riding a horse, doing gymnastics and tai chi, playing football, and even jumping. Various bones and muscles were removed to give the viewer a better idea of which muscles and bones contribute to these activities and how they cooperate to make these processes work.
“In class, I had a little trouble getting a clear image of all the different body parts we would talk about,” said Eddie Ruan ‘15. “After seeing all of that in detail, this really helped.”
Many may wonder how the exhibit managed to obtain and preserve all of these bodies so efficiently. The answer lies in a new technique called plastination, in which the bodies are drained of their fluids and filled with a polymer to prevent decay.
“The bodies almost didn’t look real,” said Amanda Varvak ’15. “I got to see all the parts of the body a person normally wouldn’t see. I was surprised by how well kept the bodies were and by the way they managed to preserve the blood vessels.”
Sabrina Karasik ’15, enjoyed the trip because it gave her a positive outlook on herself and how she feels about her body.
“I liked that we got to see actual figures of actual people with muscles and everything, rather than just a mundane picture in a textbook,” said Karasik. “What shocked me was that the bodies were all of real people. I don’t take that into consideration when I look at myself in the mirror.”
Although exhibits showcasing the human body, like this one and the BODIES museum in South Street Seaport, provide an excellent educational opportunity for students and those willing to pursue careers in medicine, there are a few ethical concerns about the way these bodies are obtained and displayed. According to the BODIES museum website, their bodies are only those of Chinese origin, and those who are unclaimed by anyone. This raises questions about whether the people actually would want their bodies displayed in a museum or be simply laid to rest. The Body Worlds exhibit claims that all of its specimens come from those of mixed origin who were willing to donate their bodies to the museum for doctors, researchers, and the general public to study.
“Despite the ethical issues that might arise, the trip overall was a very fun educational experience,” said Zachary Gerard ’15. “There was plenty of diversity in this exhibit, and I learned a lot about the human body and how all the parts work together.”