The Coastal Star

Tots & Teens: Science Center’s brain exhibit details what goes on in our gray matter

Sean Duhaney looks at the brain and spine exhibit that is part of  Journey Through the Human Brain.  Photo provided

By Janis Fontaine

The South Florida Science Center’s new permanent exhibition Journey Through the Human Brain is a 2,500- square-foot playground where children and adults can learn about their most mysterious organ.

It’s taken four years and more than a few great minds to plan and execute this one-of-a-kind exhibition at a cost of about $2.5 million.

This technological, fully interactive experience features about 30 exhibits designed to reveal the mysteries of our most vital organ. 

The exhibition also celebrates an important collaboration. The Science Center secured support from FAU’s Brain Institute, Scripps Research Florida and the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, as well as the University of Minnesota and CareerSource. But this masterful, multilayered, mind-expanding media also received generous support from the community.

Science Center President Lew Crampton has used every opportunity to move the center forward and that includes forging relationship with academics and entrepreneurs who share his love of science.

One of those academics is Dr. Randy Blakely, director of the Brain Institute at FAU Jupiter, who serves as a technical expert, one of several scientists behind the project.

“I love that there’s something for a broad spectrum of ages,” Blakely said. “For little kids, we brought the pizazz and for older kids we provided deeper information.”

The exhibit was designed to be accessible to everyone regardless of age, and that’s what brings families back to the center year after year.

Jack Price was visiting the museum on an afternoon in April. He and his 7-year-old son, Oliver, were visiting Price’s parents in Palm Beach while Oliver was on spring break from school in Alexandria, Va.

Price said going to the museum is a family tradition. He started visiting 15 years ago when Oliver’s older brother and sister, now 18 and 20 years old, were small. “They grew up coming here. Every year when we visited, the museum was always on the list of things to do,” Price said.

For most families, a highlight of the exhibition was the “lie detector” experience. One person is the criminal and the other is the detective. The criminal is recorded on video as he answers three questions, intentionally lying about one of them. The detective has to use behavioral cues to figure out which question the criminal lied about.

The science says because your brain works harder to lie, there are signs in your body language and facial expressions that give you away.

Another exhibit tests your reaction time and has you jumping up and down. Think you’re as fast as a major league batter? Try it and see.

There’s also a graphic display of what happens when you don’t wear a helmet and have a bike-riding accident — and what happens when playing football even if you do.

What sets Journey apart is its authenticity. These aren’t renderings, what the scientist/artist thinks a structure looks like; these are cutting-edge and incredibly beautiful exhibits of our gray matter’s minutiae.

The slides of brain tissue and the MRIs are real. In a plexiglass box, lit up like it’s still alive, is a vibrant red 3-D exhibit of a person’s arterial blood vessels that looks so real it almost pulses. This is not an artist’s rendering, but a scientifically preserved dissection of someone’s vascular system.

The Science Center’s supporters hope that something in the exhibit will light a fire under a child. Its ultimate goal is to inspire children to pursue careers in science and technology (especially more girls). The job market needs highly educated thinkers to solve the complex problems of our global collective.

If you ask any of the scientists — even the non-scientists — involved with the exhibit, they’ll say this project, this work, was fun.

Melinda Grenz, the Science Center’s director of marketing, says, “We bring a lot of fabulous exhibits to the center, but this one is really outstanding. I think it’s because we are all so passionate about it. We started planning four years ago and now it’s here and we’re excited to share it.” 

If You Go

What: Journey Through the Human Brain 

Where: The South Florida Science Center & Aquarium, 4801 Dreher Trail N., West Palm Beach

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cost: The exhibition is included with general admission, $17.95 adults, $15.95 seniors ages 60 and older, $13.95 ages 3-12, free for children younger than 3.

Contact: 832-1988; sfsciencecenter.org.

Video: The Palm Beach County School District posted a video that captured some students’ opinions. Check it out: youtube.com/watch?v=ML9foh70BU8

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