What's that smell?

Body odours and other anatomical unmentionables can inspire good science. finds out how at a gross exhibition

Squeeze and churn the stomach contents to get that puke moving." It's not for the fainthearted, the hands-on "Grossology" exhibition that will erupt at London's Science Museum and all over classrooms near you from May 11 until September 6.

The exhibition is huge and revolting - 800 square metres of animatronic characters that burp and snivel, interactive displays that fart and barf, a climbing wall of zit-laden skin and an entire gastrointestinal tract through which children slither and slide, entering at the top and squeezing out at... er... at the bottom.

The exhibition is based on the series of Grossology books by teacher-author Sylvia Branzei (see page 40), the first of which was originally published as a popular children's book.The series has since become omnipresent in American science classes.

The exhibition opened three years ago in British Columbia and has been travelling throughout the US and the Far East ever since, drawing astonishing numbers of visitors - 400,000 in three months in Oregon alone.

The Science Museum will be the first to host it in Europe. Visitors to the exhibition enter to encounter Nigel-Nose-It-All, an animatronic tap that explains why people have runny noses, allergies and snot. Children can examine slides of nasal contents through microscopes and read about how the nose works. They can then walk into a gigantic plastic nose and read the feature labels - the mucus wall, the sinuses, the smell centre - before the nose is alerted to their presence and a blast of air "sneezes" them out.

Moving on, there are recorded body sounds to listen to - heart, throat and lungs - and X-ray film of food passing through what appears to be the viewer's own digestive system. There are "smell bottles" of body odours to be matched to the appropriate parts of the body, and you can pump air into an animatronic country boy's stomach until the "burp meter" page 40reaches crucial pressure and resounds. Much of the background information around the exhibits includes serious physiology and human anatomy, as does the Grossology CD-Rom that supplements the book and exhibition.

Says Science Museum education manager Sarah Leonard: "We'll be encouraging teachers to make a themed visit using other parts of the museum, such as our Who Am I? gallery about the human body, and our Food for Thought gallery about digestion and nutrition. We'll also produce activity sheets to tie in with key stage 2, and include curriculum areas such as keeping healthy and understanding how the body works.

"At the same time, I think it's important to see this exhibition not so much as delivering the curriculum but as an inspirational environment for teachers to extend children's learning and to see the fun side of exploring science."

So children can not only learn the names and locations of body parts by playing at surgery with outsize tweezers and a cartoon character they can disassemble, but they can also experiment with air pressure and tubing to produce farts of different musical frequencies.

Serious body facts they can pick up from the displays include: lJYour stomach produces hydrochloric acid that is strong enough to dissolve stainless-steel razor blades.

lJ70 out of 100 people admit to picking their noses.

lJAbout ten billion tiny scales rub off your skin every day - in a lifetime you might shed four kilograms of dead skin.

lJWhen you are born, there are 350 bones in your body, but many of these fuse until you have only 206 by the time you reach adulthood.

Another issue which teachers are likely to raise, says Sarah Leonard, is the use of American terminology throughout the exhibition. Since this is a travelling show, the display text could not be anglicised. So you may need to explain to your pupils that "boogers" are, in fact, "bogeys" and "poop" is... well... maybe it won't be such a problem after all.

Entry to the exhibition for schools will be pound;2.95 per child; normal admission is pound;5.85 for adults and pound;3.95 for children. Entry to the Science Museum itself is now free

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