‘Universe within’ revealed in Hands On! body exhibit


Exhibit opens Saturday at downtown Johnson City museum

By Sarah Colson

Hands On! Director Andy Marquart with the full human specimen in “The Body” exhibit’s section on the respiratory system.  Photos by Jeff Keeling

Hands On! Director Andy Marquart with the full human specimen in “The Body” exhibit’s section on the respiratory system. Photos by Jeff Keeling

Imagine walking into a room and coming face-to-face with a full-sized human body that is caught mid-motion as if dribbling a basketball. Around the specimen are glass cases filled with other real, human organs related to the respiratory system.

The educational, anatomical experience is one visitors to “Body” exhibits – featuring real human bodies preserved by a process known as polymer impregnation – have enjoyed in major cities for more than a decade. Starting Saturday and through August, Tri-Citians can enjoy it, too, as Hands On! Museum hosts “Our Body: the Universe Within.”

“Our Body: the Universe Within” includes more than 200 specimens that have been preserved using a method known as polymer impregnation. The first of its kind to visit the Tri-Cities, with the closest similar exhibit in Atlanta, the show is one Hands On! Director Andy Marquart said people won’t want to miss.

“It’s a privilege to bring something like this here,” he said. “Johnson City has never hosted an exhibition of this magnitude.”

Marquart hopes the exhibit featuring actual human bodies and organs will draw in a wider range of people than the children’s museum typically does, including med students, EMTs, nursing students, teachers and doctors.

“We are first and foremost a museum for families and children,” Marquart said. “In the future, we want to be more for all-ages and more like a science center, and to bring world class experiences to people in our region in a fun and educational format.”

Jim Merila, the traveling exhibit’s general manager, said when body exhibits initially started playing in major metros, much of the buzz was about viewing real human specimens. He said with the new worn off that element, people usually visit now more for the detail, mystery and educational value.

“It became about education and anatomy,” Merila said. “People are looking at bones and veins and organs, knees – you know, grandma had a knee replacement. It’s very rare that people can see under the skin.”

Lungs showing the bronchial and capillary systems in the respiratory section.

Lungs showing the bronchial and capillary systems in the respiratory section.

The experience’s five different sections represent the body’s main systems. It is designed to reveal the mysteries of the human anatomy in a way that is respectful and artistic to both the specimens and the viewers.

For those that might be a bit apprehensive about viewing actual human bodies, Marquart said there’s nothing to fear.

“The exhibit slowly introduces you into things,” he said. “There are several of these exhibitions out there. Ours is very conservative and the most family-friendly version of its type. Once you get through the first few minutes, you realize how amazing the body is and you forget about everything else.”

This sense of awe and respect for the body is what Marquart hopes the exhibit conveys.

“I want people to leave with a new appreciation of their health and how their bodies work and all of the little intricate details that go into each one of us that we might take for granted every day,” Marquart said. “We all have this very amazing thing that we carry with us each day and we don’t realize what’s all involved.”

Marquart and his team of supporters, including Donate Life, East Tennessee State University, Mountain States Health Alliance and Blood Assurance, who helped make the exhibit financially possible, are optimistic that this six-month exhibit will result in the ability to hold even greater exhibits at the museum in the future.

The non-profit museum depends largely on donations and partnering with other organizations. With the anticipation of at least 25,000 visitors to the exhibit alone and with the ability to host 75,000 visitors, the potential revenue from ticket sales  could springboard Hands On! toward bringing in more high-profile exhibits in the future.

“By bringing things like this in,” Marquart said, “it allows us to increase the overall admissions throughout the year which means that when people donate at the end of the year, they’re not just donating to keep the lights on.”

“Our Body” is staged in the former J.C. Penny’s building attached to the main museum and not interfering with regular operations. The exhibit is open until August, Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., Sundays from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. and Mondays in March, June, July and August from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at the museum, and a half-priced museum admission ticket is also available with the purchase of an exhibit ticket. Information is also available at handsonmuseum.org.


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