first personSpring 2008

“Visitors share all kinds of stories about recent surgeries and ailments, and ask a wide variety of questions. I don’t always know all the answers, but I welcome the role of seeking them out.”

Erin Trout in BODIES’ circulatory gallery, where a body is reduced to its blood vessels—
all 60,000 miles of them.   Photo: Tom Altany

Full Body Experience

By Erin Trout
Educator, Carnegie Science Center

With a soon-to-be bachelor’s degree in biology, I was hired last fall as an anatomy intern leading workshops for teachers and guiding a wide variety of visitors on in-depth tours of BODIES … The Exhibition, an exhibit that respectfully and meticulously shows the marvelous complexity of the human body. Today, I continue to be amazed at how much I’m learning—from the exhibit itself, through teaching others, and from the people I meet who share a mutual interest in understanding the human body.

The first time I saw BODIES, I was with Elaine Lucas-Evans, a colleague at the Science Center, who happens to be my former fifth grade science teacher. We were immediately struck by the detailed work of the carefully dissected specimens. We spent 15 minutes in the gallery that highlights the body’s muscular system, examining a specimen that illustrates the mutual dependence of the muscular and skeletal systems. This may not sound particularly engaging—until you consider that the display consists of a pair of specimens, one highlighting the muscular system, the other the skeletal frame. They’re positioned facing one another, leaning backward and clasping hands, and they came from the same cadaver. That kind of detail is amazing!

Visitors share our awe, but also contribute to the dialogue. During one of our first workshops, a woman approached the two of us inside the gallery that focuses on the nervous system, with displays of the brain, the nerves, and different ailments that afflict them. She was particularly interested in this exhibit because, as she explained, she recently had a new surgical procedure to remove tumors from her pituitary, a very small gland located in the skull and connected to the brain. In the past, doctors had a hard time getting to the pituitary, let alone performing any kind of procedure on it. She told us that a surgeon in Pittsburgh pioneered the process by which they go through the patient’s nose to reach the pituitary. I considered this fascinating, not only that modern science could do such a thing, but that this exhibit allowed us the opportunity to talk with one of the first patients of this cutting-edge procedure.  

BODIES inevitably sparks these kinds of discussions, every day. Visitors share all kinds of stories about recent surgeries and ailments, and ask a wide variety of questions. I don’t always know all the answers, but I welcome the role of seeking them out. Sometimes that’s as easy as looking in one of the reference books located at the end of the exhibit. Other times it requires a little more research.

For example, I’ve had multiple questions about gastric bypass surgery. At first, I didn’t know much about it or how it was performed. So I asked the pathologist assistants I encounter during my day job at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where I perform autopsies. Now, when people ask,   I use the specimens on display to explain not only how it’s done, but how and why it works, as well as how things are put back together after the surgery.

I’ve since graduated from Carlow University and also graduated from intern to part-time Science Center employee. As an employee, I’m amazed and proud that with all of the biological and medical resources in and around Pittsburgh, the Science Center has been able to bring to the city yet another unique learning tool—not just for those in the medical profession, but for everyone. BODIES truly is a great way to learn about, and be inspired by, human anatomy.

Four months later, I’m still learning something new from the BODIES exhibit, from the people who visit, and from my fifth grade science teacher, some  
15-plus years later.
Also in this issue:

Traveling Warhol  ·  The Art of Being Human  ·  The Explorers Club  ·  Seeing Stars  ·  The Future is Now  ·  Director's Note  ·  NewsWorthy  ·  Now Showing  ·  Face Time: Matt Wrbican  ·  Science & Nature: A Scoop Full  ·  Artistic License: Animal Attraction  ·  Then & Now: The museum as classroom