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Body talk: Dal volunteers bring museum exhibit to life

- February 12, 2018

An image of a javelin thrower from Body Worlds RX. (Museum of Natural History photo)
An image of a javelin thrower from Body Worlds RX. (Museum of Natural History photo)

As a graduate of Dal’s Faculty of Medicine program in Anatomy and Neurobiology, Sophie Thapa (MSc’16) knows a thing or two about the human body.

So when the Museum of Natural History in Halifax went looking for knowledgeable people to volunteer as peer educators at its Body Worlds RX exhibit, word eventually found its way to her via a Dal professor she currently works for as a teaching assistant. And she readily signed up.

About 40 current and former Dal Medicine students have stepped up to volunteer as part of the exhibition at the museum, all donning white lab coats as they elaborate on the different aspects of the starkly lit cadavers that populate the exhibition.

But Sophie says her experience so far has been about a lot more than just explaining bodily functions to people. The vivid displays showing the impact of disease on the human body can be particularly moving for some museumgoers, she says.

“People come up to me and tell me stories about those they lost to cancer or smoking,” she explains. “I become a source of support for those people, and it helps them cope.”

Drawing connections


The Halifax exhibit, which is a portion of a much larger travelling collection created by German anatomist Gunter von Hagens, centres mostly on the physiology of human health and disease prevention.

Sophie is one of many volunteers drawn from the Dal community to help illuminate the display items, which range from organs and muscles to the nervous system and skeletal structures — all preserved through a complex technique called plastination created by Dr. von Hagens. The process removes fluids from the body and replaces them with plastics that harden.

Jeff Grey, curator of visitor experience and exhibits at the museum, says having the Dal volunteers around has brought exceptional educational value to the museum floor.

“All the students from Dalhousie bring with them expertise that no one in the museum can really offer,” says Grey, also a Dal alum (BA’96).

He says the feedback from visitors has been great.

Students making a difference


That’s no surprise for Elizabeth Spence, the museum’s assistant curator and volunteer experience coordinator. She says she’s been extremely impressed with how seamlessly the students have been fitting in.

“All the volunteers naturally assumed more than the role of a museum guide,” she says. “They’ve become part of an extended museum family.”  

Body Worlds RX remains on display until April 22. 


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