Monthly Archives: February 2013

Anatomically-correct giant heart

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Giant heart at Franklin institute. Photo by Silvana Russo.

I heard the The Franklin Institute in Philly had a giant heart on exhibit.

As a fan of giant hearts, I had to see it.

If I had a giant cabinet in which to store giant hearts specimens, my collection would with a Volkswagen bug-sized blue whale’s heart.

Blue whale's heart model at the Field Museum.

Blue whale’s heart model at the Field Museum.

For context, I would also collect and display the museum ad for the whale’s heart:

A whale’s heart goes for a ride. Photo by Vancouver Science World and Rethink Communications.

A whale’s heart goes for a ride. Photo by Vancouver Science World and Rethink Communications.

And then I’d renovate the cabinet to make room for the Franklin’s giant heart.

Giant heart at Franklin institute. Photo by the author.

Giant heart at Franklin institute. Dr. Silvana Russo analyzes while young museum visitors dash past her. Photo by the author.

I have to confess I was expecting a modest, whale-sized heart. The models of blue whale’s hearts are in high demand and touring the world. They are hollow, so kids can climb in and out through the ventricles and arteries. However, the Franklin’s giant heart was an ambitious model that would belong to a 220-ft giant, someone the size of the statue of liberty.

Statue of liberty’s heart is large enough for adults to climb inside. The mini-tour inside the heart includes micro staircases, claustrophobic spaces, and “you are here”-type maps. The maps convey the analogous heart location you are stepping into (e.g., ventricles, valves, arteries).

I visited the museum with my sister, an MD and blog contributor on the case of debunking House episodes. “We are approaching the lungs!”, she would shout, apparently narrating the tour. I got a little lost in the abstraction – it was hard to tell which valve was doing what and what kind of blood I was (oxygenated?). A whale’s heart might be large enough to make all structures visible and memorable, but not too large as to make you loose the big picture idea.

Dr. Russo (the other Dr. in the family) disagreed. She though it helps giving children an idea of what blood circulation is. I could have interviewed the young participants and ask, but unfortunately they were too scared to get in.

Animal heart display at the Franklin institute. Photo by the author.

Animal heart display at the Franklin institute. Photo by the author.

Near the giant heart were some averaged-sized ones, in a scale of comparison with other animals.

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Average-sized hearts of different animal species. Franklin Institute. Photo by the author.

Most hearts were mammal’s (mouse, cow, polar bear, elephant, and at the top, beaked whale), along with two bird hearts (ostrich and finch).

Dr. Russo tests the circulation exhibit at the Franklin Institute. Photo by the author.

Dr. Russo tests the circulation exhibit at the Franklin Institute. Photo by the author.

Dr. Silvana Russo also tested the Franklin’s interactive exhibit on circulation.

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Dr. Russo tests the circulation exhibit at the Franklin Institute. Photo by the author.

She is the expert and knows how blood drops flow.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on my imaginary collection of anatomically-correct hearts. Valentine’s day seems perfect for that.

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New PLOS post: Wildlife documentaries or dramatic science?

I have a new post up at PLOS. This time I look into wildlife films and nature documentaries and analyze if they can teach us something. See below:

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Behind the scenes with To the Arctic 3D. Photo credit: © Florian Schulz/Visionsofthewild.com via Smithsonian blogs.

I first met Chris Palmer when I attended his lecture about ethics in wildlife film. Palmer is a wildlife filmmaker, and his CV includes IMAX productions like Whales and To the Arctic, and the book Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom. Also a conservation advocate, Chris believes that filmmakers “have a responsibility of raising viewer awareness of the serious environmental problems facing the world”. We talked further (he graciously agreed to answer a few interview questions) and we both agree that wildlife films are great opportunity to educate the general public about science and spread a message of conservation. But, like Chris said, “[solely] promoting the beauty of the natural world is not the same as conservation.” How can we use wildlife films to educate?

Continue reading after the jump.