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An Exhibit About YOU!

By Lauri Apple in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 9, 2009 8:30PM

iStan.jpg Earlier this week, we got a sneak preview and tour of YOU!: The Experience, the Museum of Science and Industry's new, 15,000-square-foot permanent exhibit that explores and pays homage to the human body, mind, and spirit. High on interactivity and low on "eat your peas" preach, YOU! — which officially opened yesterday — emphasizes the importance of wise decision-making when it comes to our diets and lifestyles, and how our decisions affect our health and development over the course of our lives. Through a combination of traditional just-look-at-me displays and modern-day interactive exhibits, YOU! draws attention to aspects of nutrition, human development, and health that some of us, floating adrift in the seas of high-fructose corn syrup, or simply disconnected from our own bodies, might not think about very often. Some highlights include:

Plastinated Specimens: human bodies that have been preserved using special plastics. Ensconced in glass cases, the specimens focus on different bodily functions: the digestive system, for example, and the vasculature (your blood vessels).

The Fantastic Journey: a gallery of fetuses, arranged as a time line to show human prenatal development. The fetuses have been with the Museum since 1939, but are now presented in a darkened, quiet space similar to a chapel in atmosphere. Among other things, the exhibit helps to remind you how creepy you looked back when you were stuck inside Mom's uterus.

iStan, the Human Patient Simulator: a computer-controlled man who breathes, sweats, bleeds, cries, and moves around just like a real dude. He even has asthma attacks! But he does not subscribe to Details, or hang out with iBros, or work a full-time job while you stay at home with the YouTubes and the bon bons. With the help of museum facilitators, visitors can diagnose iStan and treat him just like a real doctor would, in real life, whatever real life is nowadays.

Some exhibits provide physical exam-type experiences; uninsured hobos of the recession, take note. The Giant Heart, for example, is an eight-by-thirteen-foot interactive heart that you can hook yourself up to by gripping two handlebars; the machine will take your pulse and transmit it to the heart so it beats in time with yours. Another exhibit, the Vein Viewer, enables you to see through your hand — which we didn't want to do at first, because it was a little freaky to see inside ourselves, but then we said, "oh, all right." The human-sized Hamster Wheel lets you monitor your heart rate and progress, and learn more about how your body is affected by exercise.

No exhibit about the human body would be complete without discussion of the mind. In addition to our plastinated friends, some of whom display the brain and nervous system, are exhibits that draw out your thought processes and emotions by making you work on micro-projects or react to stimuli. For example, the electrified Shocker ball is a mildly charged ball that measures your willingness to take risks. The Create an Ad booth enables you to become more acquainted with the psychological tactics that ad people use to influence our decisions as consumers. Talk to Me is a storytelling booth where you and a friend can play interviewer and interviewee; retrieve the audio recording of your story using your SciPass (a bar-coded ticket that lets visitors record their interactions with various exhibits). And Mindball is a "competitive relaxation" game in which two competitors, seated at a table and hooked up to headbands, try to out-relax each other.*

Bryan Wunar, director of the Teaching and Learning Center for the Advancement of Science Education, says the Museum is reinventing the role of the science museum in educating the public. "We're building on the past, while being a source of information that helps people look to the future," he says. By heavily personalizing visitors' experiences, the MSI hopes to nudge people in the direction of thinking about the bigger picture: The ripple effects caused by their actions. To that effect, the Museum has a variety of activities planned for this weekend, with everything from an Anatomy Academy to a Midnight Circus; check the website for more info. General admission will be free on all weekdays from Oct. 12-30.

Museum of Science and Industry, 57th St. and Lake Shore Drive. Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Open every day except Christmas Day.

* We lost at this game.