August 12, 2013

This summer I got to spend ten days in Chicago, one of my favourite places to kick back and take a break. My best friend, Catherine Kang, lives there. Like me, she is a huge fan of science, and especially anatomy. Naturally, we carved out a special day to spend at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) so we could sketch at the North American premiere of the Animal Inside Out Body Worlds.

It's hard to believe that my first trip was 7 years ago, and that even back then, when we were both eager young PhD students, we made time to go to MSI. Here's the photographic proof:

MSI Infrared Camera Catherine and Karyn in Chicago
Catherine Kang and I on our first joint trip to Chicago in 2006, exploring the infrared cameras at the Museum of Science and Industry.

She may be pretty hot, but I'm pretty cool. (See what I did there?)

Sea Snail (gastropodia)
A sea snail (gastropodia) with its shell split open, revealing its spiraling interior.

But I digress. This post is about the amazing things we saw last week. Body Worlds is my favourite series of museum exhibits of all time, and it's possible that my experience in the cadaver labs only made me appreciate them even more. I have to say that the all animals exhibit is something unique. I noted a lot of anatomical similarities, but was also surprised by a wealth of diversity.

When we entered the first exhibit hall, we were surrounded by sea creatures. We nabbed a museum tour guide (shout out to Shantira, if she ever happens upon my site) who welcomed us to the more affectionately named "food gallery" where we saw a cuttlefish, a giant squid, an octopus, and more. We immediately thought that the sea snail looked a lot like a cochlea.

There were also lots of cephalopods on display, which I have always found fascinating. Did you know that their blood is literally blue and that an octopus has three hearts? There was a lot of diversity in the suction cups that were on their tentacles, which made for a variety of textures to sketch.

A variety of cephalopod tentacles and their suction cups. Clockwise from top left: Cuttlefish (sepia), Octopus vulgaris, and Giant Squid (Architheuthis dux).

Going back to strange facts about animal hearts, there was a great variety of shapes and sizes on display to compare. There was everything from a giant bull heart to a tiny cat heart. There were even sections of a giraffe heart, revealing a 3-inch thick wall on the left ventricle. What astonished us was the 2-chambered shark heart, designed to flow blood past the gills and around the body in a single circuit, unlike our heart with one half pumping deoxygenated blood to our lungs, and the other pumping oxygenated blood around the body.

Two-chambered shark heart
A two-chambered shark heart (Prionace glauca) immediately circulates blood reoxygenated at the gills around the body.

Animal skeletons were also exciting to see. There was a giraffe dissection that showed off its uniquely long neck. I knew that a giraffe's neck has seven cervical vertebrae, the same number in a human neck, but each bone is much larger. What I did not know is that they have ball-and-socket joints, allowing a remarkable range of motion.

There were also several ostrich dissections. One showed its musculature, revealing graceful wings that resemble the powerful and sculpted arms of a ballerina. There was another that left behind only the skeleton, displaying a broad sternum (breastbone) shaped like a shield, and bones that flare out instead of joining together in its hips (unfused ischium and pubis).

Ostrich skeleton
The surprising skeleton of an Ostrich (Struthio camelus var. domesticus) has a broad sternum and pelvic bones that flare out gracefully.

If you are in the Chicago area this month, be sure to check out the entire exhibit before the show continues its tour. MSI is a great science museum in general, and you could easily spend an entire day there without ever feeling bored.