By Kris McDowell

Prior to the COVID-19 closing of Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), they received another BODY WORLDS exhibit from the series of traveling exhibits that has been viewed by more than 50 million visitors in more than 145 cities since 1995.

The arrival of BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life marks the third time the exhibit has been featured at OMSI. It follows the 2006 version that became the most popular exhibit in the museum’s history. It will remain at OMSI through Sunday, October 4.

What sets this latest look apart from the others is that it focuses on the human life cycle, capturing the body at every stage – at its most healthy, as it changes, grows, matures and finally wanes – to depict the natural occurrence of aging.

Director of the Institute for Plastination and creative and conceptual designer of the exhibit,  Dr. Angelina Whalley, says although this exhibit has been touring for over 25 years, she continues to see so many people deep in thought as they make their way through it. “People are often overwhelmed and it is a very emotional experience.”

Just as life starts inside of our mother, the exhibit begins with specimens from pre-birth. The younger specimens are dime store doll-like with ones closer to birth taking on characteristics of a newborn. For this writer, the progression was a mixture of awe and a jolting reality that these were in fact real bodies. The specimen at 26 weeks of gestation had hair.

While this may be off-putting to some, it is astounding to be able to take such a close, detailed look at a stage of development that is rarely, if ever, seen.

Posters describing specifics of the plastinated bodies or body parts they accompany are nearly as fascinating as the specimens themselves for those who want to read them fully. For those who prefer to skim the information, it’s an easy-to-understand points of reference.

The posters also inject understated humor into what could be an otherwise be a very serious exhibit.

The When Your Arms Get Too Short poster covers eyesight problems associated with aging and You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks, about the importance of ongoing learning.

Those who respond to interactive features best can enjoy stations like the anatomical mirror that uses a projection of the user to demonstrate movement, and blood pressure cuffs that precede the part of the exhibit focusing on circulation.

Want to convince someone to quit (or never take up) smoking or vaping? The display of non-smoker, smoker, lung cancer and emphysema-laden lungs are impactful even with the quickest of glances.

Dr. Whalley commented that this is one of the most discussed parts of the exhibit and some visitors have left their last pack of cigarettes behind on the display cases.

Displays of individual body parts can feel similar to an anatomy discussion while intentional, artistic components can make it more relatable to people’s lives. Life-like action poses tend to ease the concerns of individuals concerned about their reaction to the preserved bodies.

Bright red displays of the intricacies of the arteries in the brain and a life-sized nervous system catch the eye both with their color and the minutia of detail.

Like any OMSI exhibit, the depth to which one decides to take it in varies from person to person. Our stroll through was a combination of stopping to read everything at some points, detailed observation of specimens and skimming of other areas that took under an hour.

When we reached the end of the exhibit, our mind was drawn back to some things from earlier on, and anyone is welcome to go back and revisit. Spend an hour or spend hours, take in the exhibit alone or go with others and discuss it along the way. Be unnerved or awed by the specimens.

What Dr. Whalley is most rewarded by is when people leave the exhibit saying that they will never take their body for granted again.

The length of the exhibit time at OMSI makes it possible for anyone interested in taking in the extensive work of the Institute of Plastination (over one year and 1,500 hours per body) and the generosity of those who donated the bodies displayed.

OMSI reopened June 20, following Gov. Brown’s June 3 announcement that allowed for reopening and extensive work by the museum to ensure a safe, exciting experience.

They are currently open Monday-Sunday 10 am-7 pm for a limited number of visitors for this exhibit (and the USS Blueback Submarine).

At the time of this writing, the exhibition halls, Empirical Theater, Kendall Planetarium and museum restaurants remain closed. See omsi.edu/museum-reopening to purchase tickets and full details on what to expect.

Photo by Kris McDowell