REMEMBER the kid in the third grade who could recite the entire alphabet in one belch? Finally, a museum exhibition for him. If the world of bodily fluids, skin conditions and flatulence makes you queasy, then "Grossology: the (Impolite) Science of the Human Body" is not for you. True to its name, the exhibition, running at the Maryland Science Center through Jan. 5, delivers on all things gross. In a big way.
And kids love it.
Based on the best-selling book "Grossology," by Sylvia Branzei, the exhibition is 5,000 square feet devoted entirely to the kinds of things that kids, fraternity brothers and the entire cast of "Jackass" find endlessly entertaining: vomit, gas, snot and scabs. The goal here is to teach kids about bodily functions, at a level they not only understand but appreciate.
"This is an educational and fun way to explore the components of the human body," says museum Media Director Christine Rowett. "It explains the hows and whys about the gross stuff that our body makes every day."
"This is so cool," agrees 8-year-old Geoffrey Manyin as he launches balls of pollen into an oversize nose. Shoot five balls in the nose and the nose sneezes, teaching an important lesson on the formation of "boogers."
"Awesome," proclaims Manyin. His mother, Eileen, says this is the perfect exhibition for her son. "He's at the age when he's reading the 'Captain Underpants' series of books, he loves this type of thing."
Geoffrey, drawn to a collection of computer screens, goes on to play an interactive game that tests his knowledge of Grossology against the computer and other players. He wins after a few rounds of multiple-choice questions and is pronounced an "expert" on Grossology. His parents cheer, proud of his win.
"When do we get to talk about boogers and burps with our kids?" Rowett asks. "You would not believe the great interaction taking place here between adults and kids. They're talking about things we don't normally discuss, and they're having a good time. It's okay to laugh at the funny noises your body makes."
Visitors to Grossology are swallowed up, literally entering through a large mouth. Once inside, they are met by Nigel Nose-It-All, a nine-foot-tall talking, animated faucet in serious need of a plumber. The leaky faucet, dripping a ball of mucus the size of a toddler, expounds on nasal facts and trivia and other proboscis pleasantries. Microscopes and slides are set up at the base of the display to allow for up close and personal looks at what makes our noses run.
After Nigel, there's the Tour du Nose, a walk-through nasal cavity with realistic nose hair, mucus production, blood vessels and tear ducts. Step too far back and you'll set off a sneeze, sending a rush of air through the nose that's powerful enough to deviate a septum.
From nose move on to skin, and get the dirty lowdown on zits, blisters and scabs. A climbing wall allows children to become skin crawlers, scrambling up a replica of human skin, warts and all. The walls are festooned with factoids, letting readers know such interesting tidbits as: "The skin is the largest organ on the body. "
"This is hilarious," says Brittany Leone, a 10th-grader at Loudoun Valley High School in Virginia. Leone and her friend, 15-year-old Heather Bitzel, couldn't keep a straight face through most of the exhibits on the floor, frequently dissolving into laughter.
When asked if they were too old for the exhibit, they replied absolutely not. "The farts made us laugh the most," says Leone, giggling.
It's a gas over at the Toot Toot section, a veritable fart mart of tooting machinery. Visitors are invited to experiment with rubber tubing and air pressure -- holding their hands over the tubes, letting the pressure build -- to set off long and loud resounding toots, guaranteed to send out peals of laughter in both children and adults.
For more gas works there's Gas Attack! pinball, a refitted pinball game that shows the foods likely to create the most gas in the body -- bounce the ball against gas producing foods. And there's Burp Man, where visitors are invited to pump up the volume, increasing the air pressure until a cartoon character releases a loud reflux reflex.
"This is a great way to excite children about science," says Rowett. "It gets them interested in biology, chemistry and physiology without intimidating them. They're learning while they're having fun."
Those with a more delicate constitution may want to avoid Y U Stink, a game that allows visitors to match up body odors to their area of origin -- armpit, feet, mouth, and lower intestines. Or the Vomit Center, a see-through spew of churning gears that demonstrate the mechanisms at work when throwing up.
Small children can leave the exhibit via the GI Slide, a 3-D replica of the digestive tract. Children climb through the mouth, slide down the esophagus and crawl out through the brightly painted large intestine. Gross enough for you? If adults leave feeling a bit queasy, then the exhibit has done its job: providing the cause and explanation as to why you feel that way. Spending time with "Grossology" is certainly an eye and ear-opening experience. But it might be the day to skip lunch.
GROSSOLOGY: The (Impolite) Science of the Human Body -- Through Jan. 5 at the Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St., Baltimore (at the corner of Key Highway, on the southern side of the Inner Harbor). 410-685-5225. www.mdsci.org. Open Monday through Friday from 10 to 5, Saturdays from 10 to 6, Sundays from noon to 5. For museum exhibits only: $12 for adults and children over 13; $11 seniors 60 and older, $8 for children 3-12 (under 4 free). For exhibits and IMAX theater: $15.50 for adults, $14.50 for seniors and $10.50 for children under 12 (under 3 free).