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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

("Chill Out").

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

a patient.

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

plain fun.

– Sally Friedman

The Giant Heart exhibit is a permanent display at the

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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