Science News in Brief
The Pine Island glacier, one of the largest glaciers in Antarctica, is thinning four times faster than it was 10 years ago. This new information is based on satellite measurements which calculate the glacier receding at 16 meters a year. This drop in glacier size could cause large sea-level increases if current trends continue.
Apocalypse Scenario, Kinda: If all the ice on the polar ice caps were to melt away, the oceans of the world would rise an estimated 70 m (230 ft). This would not happen overnight, of course, but how long are we going to put of changing our lifestyle?
Early modern humans in Pinnacle Point, South Africa were using fire to improve the quality of their stone tools about 72,000 years ago. This technique may have been an intermediate step between cooking food (800,000 years ago) and creating pottery etc. (10,000 years ago.
So what is fire? Fire is the rapid oxidation of a combustible material releasing heat and light energy, as well as other products, like carbon dioxide.
40 years ago, on August 15, the Woodstock Festival began. 3 days of peace, love, and music. Probably the single most important musical event of the 20th century. It may not really relevant to the nature of posts on this blog, but well, we’ll just pop this one under the “soul” category.
Birding and Woodstock: The dove perched on a guitar neck in the famous poster announcing ‘Three Days of Peace and Music’ is really a catbird, an American perching bird known for its catlike calls.
Feature Story: Body Worlds
Body Worlds is a set of travelling museum exhibits which display human plastelinate developed and created by German anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens. The human bodies were all-self donated. The exhibits include:
The Mirror of Time exhibits the human life cycle and the aging process. It was created to show the complexity, resilience, but ultimate vulnerability and shortcomings of the human body.
The Brain-Our Three Pound Gem displays brain development and function, as well as brain disease and disorders. This complex organ’s many pathways and mechanisms are also explored.
The Story of the Heart is actually an overview of the whole body, as it highlights parts of the muscular system, nervous system, reproductive system, digestive system, and cardiovascular system.
The process of plastination is a long and complicated one:
- Formalin is pumped into the body through the arteries, killing bacteria and halting decomposition.
- Soluble fats are removed, along with water.
- The body’s tissues are impregnated with a silicone polymer. This is the actual step involving plastination.
- The body is then positioned in a way to show the desired parts of the body.
- Hardening can now begin.
- Each plastinate usually takes a year to fully complete and cure.
Hagens created the exhibit to educate normal, everyday people about the wonder and complexity of the human body, hopefully leading to better health awareness. Each exhibit contains around 25 full-body plastinates in positions that display the importance of individual systems as well as the codependency of all the organs. Some of the plastinates show medical prosthetics and others sick or damaged organs.
For more information about the process of plastinatin and the exhibits, one can visit www.bodyworlds.com
The Cosmic Perspective
I have gone to the Body Worlds exhibit, specifically, The Story of the Heart, so I feel that I have some insights.
The exhibit is not without its controversies. Some people believe that the display of the human body is not consistent with reverence for human remains. Other controversies include the falsified stories that Hagens uses deceased hospital patients from far Eastern countries without consent, as well as executed prisoners, for plastination. Still others say that the exhibit is only profiting off of the macabre desire to witness the “spectacle” of deceased persons.
I went to this exhibit and cannot help to feel otherwise. Before I attended, I was afraid that people would act irreverently in the presence of the plastinates. If they were, they certainly hid it very well. The atmosphere was one of stunned awe and honest inquiry, not of sinister sensationalism. It depends so much on the actual intentions of the individual that one cannot make a general statement if the exhibit is “good” or “bad.” If the exhibit inspires people to be more conscious of their health and interested in medicine and the wonders of the human body, then it has fulfilled its purpose.
On a personal level, I was amazed at the intricacy of the human body. All of our organs, large and small, are crammed into a small space. There, they must work on an individual and cooperative level to perform processes required for various bodily functions. For example, one plastinate, the hurdler, shows the interplay between all of the muscles required for movement. Another, shows the thousands of intricate capillaries and blood vessels that are all around the human body. Others show the compact positioning of the long digestive tract, or how the skeletal system works together with muscles for movement. Separate organs show how they should look when they are healthy, as well as diseased. One particular contrast was the smoker’s lung, next to a healthy lung. The difference is startling.
I would certainly recommend this exhibit to anyone who is honestly interested in the wonder that is the human body. There is a large amount of information to process, however, so do not go when you are short for time. You will want to slow down, explore the different plastinates and marvel in their inner workings.