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Publish Date: 10/6/2005

Twins Lily, left, and Thyra Herrmann “skin crawl” across hairs, pores, blisters, scabs, pimples, warts, bruises, moles and wounds Friday in the Grossology exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Times-Call/Kristin Goode
Health News Headlines

The science of. . .

All things gross about the human body goes public in new exhibit

DENVER — Does anyone really need to know that 70 out of 100 people fess up to picking their nose? Or that the average person passes gas 14 times a day and swallows about a quart of snot in the same time.

Or that “perfect poo” floats in the toilet?


Yet gross grabs the attention like nothing else for kids up to fifth or sixth grade — the target audience for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s latest exhibit.

Grossology: The (Impolite) Science of the Human Body — adapted from the best-selling namesake children’s book by science teacher Sylvia Branzei — debuts Friday. And the peanut gallery gave it rave reviews last Friday during a members’ only sneak preview.

“This is sick and disgusting!” Denver resident Lily Herrmann, 7, gleefully squealed between interactive stations peppered liberally throughout the 10,000-square-foot space, as kids nearby wiggled through a playground-sized gastrointestinal tract.

They climbed steps to enter the tract through red lips, slid down an esophagus, landed in the cavernous belly and then crawled out the lower intestine. Sidelined adults could lose their appetite thinking too long about the travels of these tykes.

But little Evalynn Pirnack, 5, pronounced the exhibit to be her favorite Grossology activity to a bemused audience — her grandmother, Longmont Mayor Julia Pirnack, and other family members.

“Going in the body! Going in the tummy!” she shouted between runs.

Not all kids care to simulate a bite of hamburger or apple passing through the digestive system. A height restriction kept the older kids from giving this a try anyway.

Still, even high schoolers normally way too cool to allow a kiddie-like exhibit to engage them could not resist. When a trio of teenage boys milling about discovered the push-button station with a half-dozen different fart sounds, they composed a crude rap.

Some interactive stations appeal to anyone old enough to fire an air gun. Kids of all ages lined up to shoot balls into a pair of giant nostrils.

The shooting gallery measures success by how long it takes to fill the nose with enough balls to make it “sneeze,” blowing the balls back at the shooter with realistic sound effects.

Volunteers dressed in white laboratory coats staff other stations, including the “Body Myths” station. As small groups gathered there, Liz Tokheim declared her job: to bust body-related myths.

She explained that humans, unlike starfish and salamanders, cannot regenerate limbs. They can, however, grow new tissue in some organs, such as the liver.

If a person has at least 10 percent of healthy liver tissue left after disease or trauma, it can grow back, she said.

Tokheim lectured some, but mostly asked questions: “Is flatulence flammable?” she said, without blinking.

Kids in the group wavered on their answers.

“Yes! It is a methane gas,” she said, lighting a flame to demonstrate the flammability of this material. “But we tell people, ‘Please do not try this at home.’”

Another display features four types of bacteria. When visitors squeeze a bag, it releases an odor common to this type of bacterial growth in various body areas.

The goal is to guess where that smell most likely comes from — armpits, feet, mouth or large intestines. With a doctorate in biochemistry, museum human health curator Bridget Coughlin can make quite accurate guesses.

“But this is the one part I won’t repeat on media tours,” she said of the realistic stenches emitted.

Grossology runs through New Year’s Day. The museum also will visit selected schools in the metro area this fall to present “The Good, the Bad, the Yucky.”

Outreach educator Jill Katzenberger gave the show a dry run Friday to a small cluster of kids. She opened her presentation with a baiting question: “Who can name something that the body does that is gross?”

Hands shot up, and kids given rare license to say such words shouted their answers: “When you pick your nose and eat the boogers! Poo! Pee! Puke! Farting!”

She used their enthusiasm for the gross to deliver a crash course in the body’s major systems.

This Grossology exhibit-inspired education brought down the house.

“Do you guys want to know a secret? If you look at your poop in the toilet and it floats, you’re eating enough fiber. If it sinks, you need to eat more prunes or something,” she said.

Feeding the impolite curiosity of children could offend. However, Coughlin trusts the exhibit will interest and educate kids in biological functions and link them to some textbook terms.

“Sure there’s puking,” she said. “But there’s also reverse peristalsis in this exhibit.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-684-5224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.


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