SALT LAKE CITY — This spring and summer, Utah parents will have the opportunity to take their children on a unique "anatomical safari."
That's how promoters describe "Animal Inside Out," a Body Worlds production that opened May 12 at The Leonardo science and culture museum. The new exhibit allows guests to view the inner workings of preserved animal specimens, from the ostrich to the octopus.
"All our previous Body Worlds exhibitions always contained a few animals," said Dr. Angelina Whalley, curator of the Body Worlds exhibits. She is a licensed physician and director of the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany. "I was always fascinated to watch visitors and how amazed they were and wondering how similar these creatures are underneath their fur," she said.
This observation prompted Whalley and her husband, German anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens, to put together an exhibit focused wholly on animals. Von Hagens is the inventor of plastination, the method by which the specimens in the exhibit are preserved. In the process, polymer is injected into the tissues of a deceased specimen and then hardened with light, heat or gas, according to Body Worlds' website.
The exhibit highlights the various systems that make animal bodies work. Guests can view firsthand the muscular makeup of a bull, the nervous system of a cat and the digestive system of a camel.
But Whalley hopes museum patrons will leave with more than just a greater scientific understanding of animals.
"We want to draw attention to the vulnerability of the animal kingdom and to instill appreciation and respect for all these animals," Whalley said. "You cannot expect humans to show respect and appreciation if you don't provide them with the proper knowledge."
The exhibit is targeted at visitors of all ages, but Whalley thinks it will particularly resonate with families and children.
"Children are usually fond of animals, and I think it's also important to allow them this experience to see how fragile nature is and to see how close (animals) are to ourselves," she said. "This respect and appreciation — I think it's particularly necessary that young people create these attitudes."
Alexandra Hesse, executive director of The Leonardo, said those associated with the museum are excited to host another Body Worlds exhibit after the success of the first one in 2008, which focused on human specimens and the workings of the heart.
The first exhibit drew 26,000 students in just three months, many of them through school field trips, according to Hesse. She said the museum provides educational tools for teachers who visit with their students to tie the exhibit to the Utah core learning outcomes.
Although "Animal Inside Out" won't draw as many field trips because it runs mostly during the summer months, Hesse believes it will be a great educational activity for families.
"Animal Inside Out" will be followed by "The Cycle of Life" in September, another Body Worlds exhibit that will focus on the human lifespan and the aging process.
"We wanted to do those back-to-back, especially to drive home this point even more that there's so many commonalities between humans and animals," Hesse said. "I think if people experience both, they maybe get that additional appreciation of similarities and differences but certainly a sense of respect for all life."
If you go ...
What: "Animal Inside Out"
When: Now through Sept. 1
Where: The Leonardo, 209 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City
Cost: $19 adults, $16.50 seniors, students, military and youth, $15 children 6-11 (package options offered with "The Cycle of Life")
Erica Palmer is a writer for the Mormon Times and Features department. Contact her at email@example.com.