August 1, 2014

Last week, BMC forced me to relinquish my keys to our computer labs. I was facing my first long weekend off in a very long time. Conveniently, a free pass to the Ontario Science Centre had been burning a hole in my wallet. After taking Curating Science last fall, our teacher, Hooley McLaughlin, gave each of us a free pass. It was like elementary school all over again, when you got your last report card and a ticket to the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition, a summer agricultural fair) was enclosed. I was really excited to finally see the newly opened Human Edge exhibit.

A free ticket to the Ontario Science Centre
It's a long weekend off, so I finally got to use the free pass Hooley McLaughlin gave me at the end of Curating Science.

It was a great chance to see a lot of the elements we talked about in class. As you enter the museum and head towards the exhibit halls, you drill down several flights of escalators and pass by gardens and forests, finally arriving at this tree stump with its roots meticulously cleaned. Apparently this was someone's entire master's thesis - dusting off and examining this root system. It was interesting from all angles.

Clean root system
It's not every day you get to see all the roots of a tree brushed clean.

Several years ago, when I bought my first rare earth magnets, I watched a few videos of ferromagnetic fluid - a liquid filled with magnetic particles that flows to take the shapes of magnetic fields. I had never seen it in action in person. There were a few exhibits with big containers of it, and this one in particular was a big hit with children and adults alike, as people lined up to move the magnets. What I also learned was that ferromagnetic fluid (like targeted nanoparticle drug delivery!) relies on the nanoscale. If the particles were any larger they would clump together, and if they were any smaller their magnetic force would be too weak to draw them towards the surrounding magnets.

Nanotechnology has many important applications, from drug delivery to acoustics. Ferromagnetic fluid relies on nanoscale magnetic particles to draw the liquid suspension up to follow magnetic fields.

After making that quick stop, I found my way to the Human Edge exhibit. It is huge and modern, furnished with sculptural partitions, and filled with specimens. There's even a rock climbing wall and a race track to run through.

Human Edge exhibit
The new human edge exhibit has a modern and sculptural design filled with activities and specimens.

This exhibit has an impressive number of specimens. There are really old skeletons, new skeletons, skulls from people of various ages, plastinated pulmonary veins with a trachea, and even an elephant heart! The papillary muscles and chordae tendineae (heart strings) were huge, and the ventricle walls were thick and strong. Everything about its outer texture also screamed elephant. It was also fun to see an articulated skeleton posed in something other than anatomical position.

Elephant heart
Here I am with a real elephant heart! It is a massive and powerful specimen.
Elephant heart
A view into the right ventricle of the elephant heart reveals internal structures much like ours, including papillary muscles to pull on the chordae tendineae (heart strings) to keep the tricuspid valve closed while the ventricle contracts.
Elephant heart
The left ventricle, responsible for pumping blood through the entire body (as opposed to just the lungs and back) has even thicker and more powerful walls. Also, check out the diameter of those great vessels!
Old bones
Old unearthed bones show that the distal tips of the skeleton's limbs often decompose first.
Young bones
An articulated skeleton demonstrates potential for human flexibility by rejecting the typical anatomical position.
Child's skull
A child's skull shows rows of adult teeth waiting to replace baby teeth.

There was lots to see beyond these exhibits, including lots of physics experiments (think weights, levers, and pulleys), a phosphorescent shadow tunnel, and a tornado that would only form if you pooled together with your friends to run laps inside an enclosed tube. And would you believe I found yet another skeleton while wandering around? A WHALE skeleton! Just an unassuming creature, swimming up by the rafters.

Whale skeleton
It's hard to believe that whale ancestors lived on land before returning to the sea. Their skeletons certainly have a lot of similarities to ours.