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ZAP! Surgery Beyond the Cutting Edge        


Technology opens up the world of surgery without opening up the patient.


January 10, 2001 through January 2, 2002



Zap! showcases Pittsburgh’s medical community as a leader in high-tech surgery,  and Carnegie Science Center as an innovator of high-tech exhibits.  The only traveling exhibit in the world to detail the trend toward less invasive surgery, it presents complex technologies and the science behind them through unique interactive experiences that appeal to a broad audience.  All of the interactive programs were developed by CSC, including a 15-passenger motion simulator, and high-tech virtual reality components.  The exhibit's presentation methods, such as flat screen monitors, create a futuristic environment for the visitor.


It debuted at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland in October, 2000, where it was featured at the annual Association of Science and Technology (ASTC) conference, and was seen by science center representatives from all over the world.  After Pittsburgh it begins its national tour to such diverse locations as Discovery Place in Charlotte, North Carolina; the Museum of

Health and Medical Science in Houston, Texas; The Tech Museum in San Jose, California; OMSI, in Portland, Oregon; Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey; and other sites.


As a high visibility Pittsburgh export to science centers all over the

country, it represents a major achievement of Carnegie Science Center and Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.


Good morning, doctor. You’ve got a busy schedule today. First, the paramedics brought in a patient with a foreign object in her lung; then there’s the brain tumor. After lunch, you’ve got the kidney stones to take care of, and then the liver tumors.  Oh, and sometime today, you need to repair some leaking blood vessels on a three-foot wide eyeball.


Okay, maybe this is not the script of a television show like ER.  But Zap! Surgery Beyond the Cutting Edge, starting its Pittsburgh run in its entirety next month at Carnegie Science Center, is still very cool.


Three years in the making, Zap! examines the scientific principles

behind several surgical technologies: endoscopes, lasers, ultrasound, cryosurgery, and the Gamma Knife, which focuses gamma rays to destroy harmful structures in the brain without incision.  It takes a close look at less invasive procedures that identify Pittsburgh as one of the world leaders in medicine.


 "All of the technologies use scientific principles found in school curricula," says Linda Ortenzo, exhibit development specialist and project leader for the exhibit. "We stress how these principles are used in the  technologies, to allow people to explore the ways that science can be used to solve problems.  We also picked procedures that are likely to be experienced by a wide range of people, as well as things that make people say ‘I didn’t know they could do that!’"


Each of the five technologies is explained in a module (a group of interactives). Each module contains three areas: "Explore It," where interactive exhibits explain the basic principles behind the technology; "Real Stories/Real Surgery," videos of actual procedures accompanied by interviews with doctors, patients, and scientists and a clear picture of the risks and benefits of each type of surgery; and "Be the Surgeon," where you can put it all into practice and perform simulated surgical procedures. Unlike the real thing, when you make a mistake here, you can go back and start again.


Zap! is a lot to digest (Sorry. Unavoidable).  There are nearly 40 interactives, counting ZapCam, a motion-simulator ride through the human body, and Zap! Jr., an area designated especially for young children. Fortunately, since the exhibit may require a return visit or two to absorb everything, it will be here all year. 


To design and implement Zap!, the core project team of Ortenzo, Pete Feher (senior exhibit designer), Dr. Patty Antalis (exhibit development specialist), and Lauren Eckie (exhibit designer) spent enough time in operating rooms, doctors and scientists offices,  to almost hang out a shingle and start their own practices.  Each portion of the exhibit was reviewed by a panel of doctors, nurses, teachers and scientists, including Ortenzo’s sister, Col. Carole Ortenzo, M.D., a military surgeon at Ft. Benning, Georgia.


The surgeries portrayed in the exhibit run the gamut from tattoo removal and liposuction to the repair of vocal cords and the removal of tumors from the brain and the liver. Although the video clips give plenty of warning, you may want to preview them before watching them with younger children, as some of them can be slightly graphic. And, even though the surgeries are as minimally invasive as they can be, if you were considering liposuction as a quick and easy way to drop a few pounds, take a good look at the size of that probe they use—training for the marathon might be a more pleasant option.


Each of the surgical processes featured in Zap! is minimally invasive, representing a dramatic change from past surgerical techniques, some of which are outlined in instruction panels that line the ZapCam ride. The panels highlight the history of surgery, beginning with the times when people drilled holes in your head, bled you with leeches, and made sure your "humours" weren’t out of whack.  The diagnostic methods of several centuries ago often consisted of trying to determine which god you had angered by your evil behavior. This in turn would determine the treatment. How many holes would you need to release the pressure? Would a finger amputation be enough appeasement, or would the whole hand have to go? Given that kind of history, maybe the doctor-patient relationship today isn’t quite so bad as we may think. Still, being bled by leeches may be preferable to wading through several volumes of health-care provider forms.


 ZapCam, a four-minute "ride" through the human body in a motion simulator, is just like the movie Fantastic Voyage, only without the Hollywood melodrama. After you board the ZapCam vehicle, you embark down the throat, into the stomach and intestines, and right when it looks like you’re heading for oblivion, you take a sharp turn into the liver. ZapCam goes on to visit the lungs, the heart, the eye, and then, right when you’re in the brain, trying to use the gamma knife to obliterate a tumor…well, that would be telling.


Zap! Jr., an area designed for children five to eight, features a gigantic version of the Hasbro game “Operation,” as well as toy medical instruments, brightly colored lab coats and surgical scrubs, a body-shaped magnetic puzzle that illustrates organ systems, and much more.  Although Zap! Jr. is theoretically for kids, in Cleveland, Ortenzo spotted two grown women, no kids in sight, facing off across the “Operation” board.


The wide range of visitors—individuals, families, spanning a wide spectrum of ages and backgrounds—was very gratifying to the Zap! team, as they watched people too engrossed in conversation to notice the lines they were standing in.


"That’s always the goal of an exhibit," she says. "For people to gather together, spark stimulating discussions, learn, and have fun."



ˇ        Gamma Knife

The Leksell Gamma KnifeŽ is used to treat disorders of the brain when conventional surgery would be too risky. Gamma rays (high-energy electromagnetic waves produced by certain radioactive elements) are used to destroy tumors and other disorders. The instrument can focus the energy of 201 gamma rays at a specific target without damaging surrounding tissue. This is done by fitting the patient with a helmet with 201 tiny holes, each of which can be opened or closed to permit the gamma rays to attack a target. Doctors and physicists decide which holes should be left open and which should be closed.


ˇ        Lasers

Lasers (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) are beams of electromagnetic radiation . Properties of lasers allow for a highly concentrated beam of energy that can travel long distances without losing its focus.


ˇ        Endoscopes

Endoscopes are tubes with small bundles of optical fibers. When the tubes are inserted into the body through tiny openings, the fibers can transmit images onto a screen, or direct light into the body, enabling physicians to perform surgery through tiny incisions.


ˇ        Ultrasound

When an object vibrates, it generates sound. A sound’s frequency is measured by the number of vibrations which occur per second. Extremely high frequencies—more than 20,000 vibrations per second—are termed ultrasonic. These high-frequency sounds can be used to break up kidney stones. Instruments that vibrate at these frequencies are used to remove cataracts and deposits of fat.


ˇ        Cryosurgery

The prefix "cryo" means cold. Liquid nitrogen, which exists at temperatures lower than 300 degrees below zero, has been used for many years to remove external tumors, moles and warts on the skin. Recently, surgeons have been able to use an instrument cooled by liquid nitrogen to destroy tumors inside the body, as well. Liquid nitrogen circulates through a cyroprobe, a narrow instrument, inserted into a tumor.  Tissue surrounding the probe freezes rapidly, producing an ice ball.  This causes ice crystals to form within the cells of the tumor, damaging the membranes and internal structures of the cells, resulting in cell death.  The tissue is warmed and then refrozen a number of times until the selected tumors have been destroyed.





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