‘Ewwwwww!’, Grossology exhibit indulges kids’ fascination with body functions

By Martha Irvine, The Associated Press
Friday November 02, 2001

CHICAGO — It’s a popular science exhibit that explores the slimy, the crusty and the scaly. 

But we’re not talking sea urchins, moon rocks and dinosaurs here. 

This one’s about “grossology,” the unapologetic and sometimes stomach-churning study of body functions and fluids that are rarely talked about openly — but that kids love to giggle and squirm at. 

“Throwing up, pooping and peeing — the combination of the three are what make it a hit,” says Sylvia Branzei, a science teacher from Garberville, Calif. She wrote the book that inspired “Grossology: The (Impolite) Science of the Human Body,” a traveling exhibit now visiting Chicago, Singapore and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

The interactive exhibit is a veritable jungle of giant body parts and rude noises. 

Among other things, there’s a cave-like nose that sometimes sneezes on those who dare to enter; a burp machine that allows museum-goers to pump air into a stomach chamber and then release a loud belch; and a slide shaped like a giant gastrointestinal tract that ejects kids onto a “poo poo” mat. 

Each station also has factoids that explain how the body works — with plenty of grossness piled on to keep it interesting. 

Consider this morsel: 70 out of 100 people admit to picking their noses. 

Sisters Isabelle and Austen Friend aren’t about to confess their own nose-picking habits during a visit to the exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago. But they’re more than happy to tell on each other. 

“I don’t eat my boogers. But she does,” 8-year-old Isabelle says, pointing at her little sister. 

“No, you do!” 6-year-old Austen shouts back. 

“No, you do!” Isabelle repeats — and so on and so on. 

A few feet away, at the “Y U Stink” station, Rickia Ballentine and others from her third-grade class hold their noses and wince when they get a whiff of scents they squeeze from plastic bottles. 

“Smelly feet, bad breath ...,” Rickia says, shaking her head in disgust as she  

lists off a few of them. 

Then she goes back to smell more. 

It’s just the sort of moment Branzei — who collaborated with Michigan-based Advanced Exhibits to create the show — expects. 

“Kids like the taboo of the whole thing. And our culture finds any body excretion to be taboo,” says the self-proclaimed “all-around grossologist.” 

Branzei got the idea for her book a few years back while cutting her toe nails and observing what was left behind. 

Where did it come from? And why do feet stink, anyway? 

Answering questions like those propelled her to success. Branzei’s book and exhibit have been so popular that she has written a sequel, which will soon become a second exhibit: “Animal Grossology.” 

Teachers who visit the first exhibit with their classes are raving about it. 

“There’s only so much you can do in the classroom,” says Heather Siegel, a Chicago teacher who brought her kindergarten class. “This is very hands on.” 

Not that her students always get it at first. 

When one boy  

slid onto the “poo poo” mat, Siegel asked if he knew he’d just slid through a make-believe colon. 

Hearing that, he let out a common cry at the exhibit: