Corrections or additions?
This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the December 8,
2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
In the Heart of Philly, the Heart Beats On
The thumping sounded a bit like a drum-beat as it pulsated outside the
vast Franklin Institute. It took a minute to realize that what we were
hearing on a recent morning – amplified significantly – was the
beating of a human heart.
That sound effect was a perfect introduction to the sprawling
exhibition that will be on permanent display INSIDE the Institute. And
if you’ve already walked through the famous replica of the heart,
which is part of the new exhibit, well (ahem) take heart! The new,
improved walk-through heart alone is well worth a visit.
But there’s so much more to this exhibition experience, aptly called
"The Giant Heart: A Healthy Interactive Experience." Presented by
Merck and sponsored by the Heart Center at Lankenau Hospital, "The
Giant Heart" is a dazzling display of the heart’s anatomy, of general
health and wellness, along with an exploration of blood, medical
diagnosis, and treatment of heart-related issues.
It’s a lot to take in, and our first piece of advice is to pace
yourself – especially if you’re visiting with kids. This is not a
quick hit/race-through exhibit space. And as with any recent opening,
the legions of the curious make for larger than usual crowds,
particularly at the holidays.
Plan to spend at least a couple of hours exploring the permanent
exhibition. And if you’re seeing it with kids, be prepared to tour the
piece de resistance, the walk-through replica of the human heart,
first. They’ll clamor to.
Initially constructed of papier mache and dubbed "The Engine of Life,"
the heart made its first appearance at the Institute in 1954,
presumably as a temporary exhibit proposed by Dr. Mildred Pfeiffer, a
leading public health figure in Pennsylvania in the post World War II
era. It’s been there in some form ever since.
Renamed "The Heart of Philadelphia" in 1974, and refurbished in 1979
with such amenities as air conditioning and lighting, the latest
renovations to this mega-attraction took six full months of
The result is definitely more user-friendly, less claustrophobic,
better lit, and generally more sophisticated, with lighting effects
that dramatically demonstrate how a heart works. The young visitor we
brought found himself most fascinated by the sound effects inside the
heart – and they are impressive.
The other exhibit areas are equally compelling, because almost
everything you see has some interactive capability. Designed by Phil
Lindsey, a decade-long designer for Disney, the exhibit reveals lots
of Disneyesque pizzazz everywhere you turn.
Highlights include the specter of a human skeleton in exercise gear
running on a cross-training machine whose workout allows us to see
what happens to the body during exercise; a "Talking Vending Machine"
that examines the nutritional value (candy bars are not a food group)
of various foods; and a child-sized crawl-through device that lets
little ones become individual blood cells making their way through
clear – and clogged – arteries.
Another highlight, not for the faint of heart, is the "Blood Fountain"
that represents the components of blood – plasma, red and white cells,
and platelets. You can also follow the stress level of a typical
teenager ("Day in the Life") or the benefits of relaxation techniques
Be sure not to miss the Diagnosis and Treatment section of the
exhibit, which many recent opening day visitors found the most
fascinating. Not only can you learn about X-rays, MRIs, and
ultrasounds – the new arsenal of diagnostic techniques we moderns find
ourselves being evaluated by; but you can also visit the graphic
"Surgical Theater," donated by Lankenau Hospital, to witness an actual
open heart operation via a video on the chest of the dummy portraying
So what’s the impact of "The Giant Heart" exhibit? Certainly, more
insight and information into heart disease, which we now know is the
leading killer of Americans. Definitely, a clearer sense of how the
heart works, and how blood circulates.
And you can’t leave "The Giant Heart" exhibit without a nod to the
brilliant design of the entire area, which has been transformed into a
5,000-foot science exposition. It’s a wonderful example of how
learning can be fused with drama, interactive experience, and just
– Sally Friedman
Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th Street, Philadelphia. 215-448-1200.
Sunday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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