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culture

Exhibiting the Human Edge

The Ontario Science Centre's first new exhibit hall in seven years explores the limits of the human body.

As soon as you enter The AstraZeneca Human Edge at the Ontario Science Centre, you can predict which exhibit kids will run to: the climbing wall on the immediate left. A stand-in for mountaineering, the wall represents the limits of human endurance—the theme of many of the displays, which make their public debut on December 7.

The first new permanent exhibition hall to open at the Science Centre in seven years, The AstraZeneca Human Edge features 80 exhibits that explore the boundaries of our bodies as they develop from conception to death. The exhibits are grouped into five thematic areas, each of which focuses on a different kind of human limitation, such as aging or physical injury.

One of the first stops is a tall cone containing a free-diving simulation. Featuring narration from world-record-holder Mandy-Rae Cruickshank Krack, the chamber combines sound and watery lighting evocative of a deep dive. The effect is stunning—by the time Krack reaches the dark reaches of her 88-metre descent, the pressure of the depths gnaws at your head.

That pressure is relieved by a nearby case filled with oddities and artifacts from the weight-loss industry. You can test the effectiveness of rollers designed to glide away the pounds, listen to exercise records (with full orchestral accompaniment!) from the 1920s, gaze upon boxes of tragically named appetite-suppressant candies, and browse advertisements for slenderizing products parodied by Monty Python.

On a more serious historical note, the corner devoted to diabetes treatment includes a refurbished version of Frederick Banting and Charles Best’s University of Toronto lab. A series of phones offers users historical diagnoses of the disease from the Victorian era to the near future. Sadly, none are narrated by Wilford Brimley. If you were recently informed that you have diabetes, please don’t dial up Sir William Osler for a second opinion.

We tested the “aging machine,” which snaps your photo and projects your future appearance for every decade until you hit 70. The results are alternately amusing and terrifying, depending on how deeply lined your face becomes. You can then share the image of your aged visage on nearby screens, or type in a code that will allow you to download the photos at home.

Elsewhere in the hall, you’ll find the usual assortment of buttons, cross-sections, and dials intended to inform and amuse patrons. It’s likely staff will hear every sperm joke invented if they hang around long enough by the interactive display illustrating how many little swimmers will reach the final conception heats.

During her opening remarks at today’s media preview, Ontario Science Centre CEO Lesley Lewis warned that “it’s not quite finished.” If you’re planning a holiday visit, be warned that several major interactive displays won’t be ready for prime time until late January. Currently marked by tape outlines on the floor, the “Personal Limits” area will include a dance floor that converts your moves into electricity, rowing machines, and a running track that will videotape your gait for all to see. Until that section is functional, the hall can’t help but feel like a work in progress.



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