September 3, 2015

Portland Science Center to open Friday with 'Body Worlds' exhibit

A gymnast flips across a balance beam in the Body Worlds exhibit at the new Portland Science Center, which opens Friday on Maine Wharf.

The new Portland Science Center, scheduled to open Sept. 4 on Maine Wharf after a couple months' delay, expects to draw about 100,000 visitors to the "Body Worlds" exhibit, according to organizers.

Ticket prices run from $15.50 for children to $19.50 for those aged 13 and above. College students, seniors aged 65 and above and the military pay $17.50.

The display of human body parts and bodies in motion aims to educate visitors about their bodies. The displays are made of real human bodies and parts using a technique developed by anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens called plastination that exchanges body tissue liquids with a silicon polymer for preservation, Dr. Angelina Whalley, director of the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany, told Mainebiz during a press tour of the facility on Sept. 2. Whalley is von Hagens' wife and collaborates with him on the project.

"My hope is that people will leave the exhibition knowing more about themselves," Dr. Whalley said. "For some, it's a very emotional experience. They say, 'I will never again take my body for granted.'"

There are 10 versions of the "Body Worlds" exhibit, said Joe Gold, principal for The Gold Group, a Salem, Mass.-based entertainment company that is running the exhibit. The version in Portland came from a previous showing in Mexico.

Gold said the exhibit has 17 full bodies in various positions, including a gymnast flipping backwards across a balance beam and a soccer player kicking a ball. It has 200 other body parts, including healthy and smoker's lung tissues side-by-side and a healthy knee and one showing cartilage damaged by osteoarthritis.

Gold said he's presented other famous exhibits, including the King Tut exhibit, but in the case of "Body Worlds," people actually change their minds about how they treat their body.

"They think about that next cigarette," he said. Gold himself was affected. He said he's lost 25 pounds over the past four months because he "stopped eating like a pig, exercised a lot and counted calories." He said he has 15 more pounds to go.

Dr. Whalley said that's a success for physicians like herself. She said surveys were conducted in Germany and Austria among both people immediately exiting the exhibit and a half a year afterward. She said 9% stopped or decreased their smoking habit, 33% were more careful about what they ate and 25% started exercising.

The exhibit occupies the top two floors of the building's more than 15,000 square feet of exhibit space. Visitors start on the third floor, walking by cases filled with samples of different body parts and cards explaining them. There also are educational videos.

A section of the second floor exhibits contains a section with a warning, as it has fetuses in it.

There also is a gift shop.

The plastinated bodies come from a donation program managed by the Institute for Plastination.

According to the museum, more than 40 million people have seen the various "Body Worlds" exhibitions worldwide.

The name Portland Science Center is corrected from an earlier version.

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