Connecting mind and body: Health Museum combines art and technology to teach visitors about being human

While many Southeast Texans have probably visited Houston’s Museum District, one museum they might have overlooked is definitely worth a visit, especially for those who are interested in the health sciences or simply want to learn more about their bodies.

The John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science, or The Health Museum in short, is at 1515 Hermann Drive in Houston and is the only museum in the Houston Museum District Association with a Smithsonian affiliation, which makes Smithsonian collections and resources widely available.

“The mission of the museum is to inspire enthusiasm about health and medical science and the human body and to spark curiosity, but the vision of the museum is to take the complex, rigorous information about health and medical science and make it comprehendible for everybody — all ages and all walks of life,” Dr. Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of The Health Museum told Vital Signs.

The museum’s newest exhibit allows visitors to be able to use their own bodies to discover and understand how the mind and the body react to musical stimulation.

“Music is a universal language we all share. Regardless of our individual backgrounds and experiences, or what genre of music we choose to listen to, our bodies respond in very much the same way to the sound of music,” Johnson said, explaining that the exhibit is the pure concept of (STEAM) Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. “BIORHYTHM is a perfect way to critically blend those disciplines. You’ll see beautiful works of arts throughout this exhibit that are quite delicate, but you’ll see them interplay with engineering and technology.”

One example of art being integrated into science and technology is the exhibit Hear, Hear.

“We have this big, beautiful ear and you can clap your hands or make loud sounds, but across the room is another art piece that looks like an abstract piece with a duck, a violin and a tea kettle,” Johnson said. “The scientific or the technology part is that each time you clap into the external rendition of an ear, the response is in that art piece … You can see how the inside of the internal structure of our ear, the small delicate bones, and how the sound is projected by those tiny, little hairs.” Percussive bones, rippling hairs and moving liquid – a collaboration between artist and scientist has created this playful exploration of the world of human hearing, she explained.

BIORHYTHM, which will be on display at the museum through July 31, also features a multi-user, chain-linked human instrument that creates ever-changing unique sounds as individuals hold hands and move about the installation. Chains of Emotion is a highly participatory experience, urging visitors to form human chains to create a unique and ever-changing musical performance.

Perhaps one of the most popular exhibits at the Health Museum, however, is the Amazing Body Lab, which features a 22-foot-long backbone with ribs descending from the ceiling to the floor, creating the feeling of being inside a giant rib cage; a Texas-sized, 10-foot-tall walk-through brain with memory games and a 12-foot-tall beating heart that goes into cardiac arrest every 20 minutes, sounding a loud siren and illuminating a flashing “code blue” light.

Named after accomplished medical pioneer Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, The DeBakey Cell Lab allows visitors to gear up with a lab coat, gloves and goggles and travel through experiment stations in both English and Spanish.

“There are nine different lab experiments that you can do there. You can learn to use a microscope. You can swab your cheek cells and look at all the things you’ve potentially consumed,” Johnson said. Visitors can also experience DNA extraction and blood typing or simply look at a fruit fly under a dissection microscope.

“It’s great to watch adults and their children interact with a microbiology lab because typically there’s separation. Kids have to go to school to enter a microbiology lab without their parents, so it’s a great opportunity for parents to come together (with their children) and learn again.”

The Health Museum can actually act as a catalyst by inspiring children and teens to choose to study for a career in the field of medicine.

“It’s shows children that’s it’s achievable at a young age,” Johnson said. “The concepts are interesting, and it’s feasible for them to learn and to be able to manipulate those concepts at an early age.”

During the summer (from July 9-13) the museum offers a Teen Summit for 9th to 12th grade students to explore the challenges facing modern day medicine with leading experts from the Texas Medical Center.

“There’s mini medical school … and the kids are able to learn things like sutures, finger casts, and they’re able to understand these things are within their grasp and are not reserved in some corner just for the geniuses,” she said.

Teen summit involves five days of hands-on sessions with medical experts, medical center visits, dorm accommodations for four days, meals, transportation around the Texas Medical Center and the city, medical presentations, evening parties and events, a T-Shirt and more. Overnight cost per individual is $1,350. If a group of 20 or more students signs up, that rate per individual is discounted to $1,075.

Health Museum admission for non-member adults is $10 and $8 for kids and seniors (65+), and the DeBakey Cell Lab is an additonal $5 for non-members. For membership and parking information, as well as hours, visit www.thehealthmuseum.org.

The Health Museum could be an interesting day trip on weekends this spring or while the children are out for school this summer.

Photo by Kevin King - One example of art being integrated in to science and technology is the exhibit Hear, Hear. Each time you clap into the external rendition of an ear, the response is in the art piece.

 

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