Neurotechnica Review: Body Worlds 2 & The Brain, Our Three-Pound Gem

Body Worlds 2 & The Brain, Our Three-Pound Gem

Having been a huge fan of the first Houston exhibition, I was excited to learn that Body Worlds would be returning this year.  This time, it’s called “Body Worlds 2 & The Brain, Our Three-Pound Gem” (which naturally had me excited).

To start off with, this exhibit is extremely expensive for a museum showing.  My (student!) ticket came out to be $21, and standard adult admission is $25.  There’s definitely not enough to this exhibit to warrant that kind of ticket price (though I’d still suggest attending if you somehow missed the first Body Worlds showing).

Also, for those of you with a strong interest in neuroscience (like myself), Body Worlds 2 is definitely targeted towards a general audience.  There isn’t anything that isn’t taught in PSYC 101 or an intro neuroscience course, but it’s pretty cool that it’s presented in a very readable and exciting way.  The “three-pound gem” part seems to be an afterthought, though, as very little of the exhibit itself is geared towards the brain.  There are lots of wall hangings that briefly introduce different aspects of modern neuroscience (like development, personality, emotion, creativity, memory, consciousness, disease, etc).  These amount to little more than you’d find in a Time or New York Times article, and some even contradict each other.  One (I don’t remember which) attributed long term memory to  “the back of the brain”, and also defined “instantaneous memory” to be the type of memory used to remember a phone number (this is the classic example for working memory).  But, in general, these provide an interesting & broad overview of the more interesting parts of neuroscience.

So what brain-related plastination specimens are shown?  Like before, there are plastinated coronal, saggital, and axial slices of adult brains, as well as several specimens from stroke victims (slices & whole brains).  There are at least 2 examples of the entire nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and large peripheral nerves), which are very impressive and interesting to see, as well as one specimen from an Alzheimer’s disease victim.  The coolest brain-related specimen, I thought, was a cast of the cerebral blood vessels.  The structure is absolutely beautiful.  Also, several of the full-body plastinations placed a great deal of emphasis on the brain, like “The Ponderer“, which is a man seated comfortably in a contemplative pose w/ much of his brain exposed.

As far as the full-body plastinations go, there are some very creative examples on display.  It won’t do anyone much good for me to try and describe them, but there are at least 3 or 4 that I was very impressed with.  Gunther von Hagens is truly an artist.  The full-body specimens are much more artistic this time than they were in the previous exhibit, so perhaps those alone could be worth the price of admission.

It surprises me that they’re marketing this exhibit as focusing on the brain.  Aside from the wall hangings, there isn’t really any additional brain-related content this time around.  There is, however, a large and very interesting display of human development, from conception to birth.  This part of the exhibit should certainly be the main attraction, but for whatever reason (probably support from the Mischer Neuroscience Institute), the brain was this year’s focus.

Overall, I was a little disappointed in Body Worlds 2.  I guess I was expecting to be as impressed as I was the first time, which I unfortunatley wasn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, Body Worlds is a wonderful opportunity to see real human bodies and what happens to them as we age & suffer disease.  The full-body plastinations are as impressive as ever, if not moreso, and the neuroscience blurbs on the wall will hopefully further promote awareness of neuroscience as an important discipline.  But if you’re expecting something new and brain-centered, Body Worlds 2 isn’t quite there.

What: Body Worlds 2 & The Brain, Our Three-Pound Gem

Where: Houston Museum of Natural Science

When: until Feb 22

How (much): $21 for college students, $25 for adults, $17 for members (buy here)

Worth it? Depends on who you are.  Definitely check it out if you missed the first Houston showing, but otherwise, there’s not much new to see here.

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