An Anatomical Safari

MOI makes Idaho Falls nation’s smallest city to land famed animal bodies exhibit

Published online: Apr 02, 2020 Articles Jeff Carr
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How many museum exhibits really stick with you long after your visit? Take a minute and think. 

We museum folk hope to make a lasting impact – hope that some level of light lingers even after the facts have faded – but we know it doesn’t happen every time. You just saw the Hope Diamond and some part of you says this is significant, and I should savor this, but also the kids are getting antsy, and we need to figure out dinner

Then: The Hope Diamond? Oh yeah, I think I might have seen that.

Community members here in East Idaho tell us at the Museum of Idaho (MOI) all the time about exhibits of ours that have made an impression. We love that. And in those conversations, there’s one exhibit that gets mentioned more than any other, by far.

When are you bringing back the bodies?

They’re referring, of course, to a world-famous anatomy exhibit we hosted at MOI back in 2011. That made an impression. People frequently tell us about the impression it made on them as doctors, parents, pliable youth. My college buddies and I shelled out $30 each to see it in Las Vegas in 2007, and I’ve never forgotten it. Seeing real muscles, veins, organs, and bones up close is a unique privilege – one that East Idahoans will have again starting this summer, but with a major twist. A furry, feathery twist. Starting on June 18, Idaho Falls will become by far the country’s smallest city ever to host Body Worlds: Animal Inside Out.

The exhibit allows visitors to get up-close and personal with the real inner workings of more than 100 familiar and exotic animals, including giraffe, giant squid, ostrich, bull, and yes, human as well. These are real specimens whose real muscles, organs, and more have been preserved through a process called plastination. 

According to Body Worlds, plastination is a method of halting decomposition to preserve anatomical specimens for scientific and medical education. In the process, all fluids in the specimen are removed and replaced with plastics and polymers, then cured using light, heat, and special gases. They can also be cut or posed in ways that maximize viewers’ ability to observe the intricate biology and physiology within. Former anatomy professor Dr. Gunther von Hagens, founder of Body Worlds, developed the process in the 1970s, and first used it in the company’s well-known human exhibits, which have now visited more than 100 cities across the globe. 

By 2000, von Hagens had begun applying the process to animal specimens as well. The grueling task of plastinating a 16-foot giraffe took two years, 12 people, and 20,000 working hours. After enough specimens were ready, Animal Inside Out was hatched in 2011. The exhibit showcases some of the best anatomy that planet Earth has to offer, including bodies capable of flying, changing colors, surviving in extreme environments, and doing all sorts of impressive things. 

“Exhibits like this have a strong impact on visitors,” said Rod Hansen, MOI Director of Exhibitions. “Seeing the inner workings of real specimens up close is already memorable experience, and with the added opportunity to compare and contrast humans and animals, it becomes even more impactful.”

The specimens, by the way, all arrive through an established body donation program managed by von Hagens’s Institute for Plastination in cooperation with zoos, veterinary organizations, and others. No animal is harmed or killed for the exhibit.

Unlike Body Worlds’ human exhibits, which are currently on display in Boston, San Jose, St. Paul, and a few places abroad, the one and only place to see Animal Inside Out is right here in Idaho Falls, at least for a little while. As an added bonus, just as with most MOI traveling exhibits, getting a ticket to see Animal Inside Out will cost far less at MOI than it does in major cities – and that’s just the ticket. When the world comes to Idaho Falls, you also don’t pay for travel, parking, or anything else. That’s quite the deal.

The exhibit will run in the museum’s new large exhibition hall from June 2020 through January 2021. The museum is also currently developing The Way Out West, which will take visitors through 13,000 years of East Idaho history. That exhibit will open in the museum’s original exhibition spaces later this year.

 

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