Most of the medical exhibits at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History were installed when the museum opened in 1964 and devices like the artificial heart were barely even imagined. Now museum curators, hoping to bring those halls up to date, have begun work on a $3 million "Health in America" exhibit to open in the 1990s and remain on display until well into the 21st century.

Among the elements under consideration for the show are: Medical devices, including a tiny "swallowed pharmacy" that is still under development. This device would sit in the stomach and deliver prescription medicine continuously for 30 to 60 days. Artificial body parts and organs, including the Jarvik-7 artificial heart. These may be arranged as a sort of bionic man. Special goggles that allow some blind people to see the outlines of large objects. An examination of medical fraud, such as electrotherapy, in which a box with phony dials and lights is used to treat almost any disease.

Curator Ramunas Kondratas emphasized that the museum is not yet committed to the project, and that raising the needed money is likely to take several years.

"A lot has happened in the scholarly interpretation of the history of medicine," Kondratas said. "This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity."