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New MOSI exhibit teaches the young about growing old 

Mary Shedden - The Tampa Tribune

The aches and pains of middle age can be the kick in the rear some of us need to start living better.

But how do you get motivated if those few extra pounds or that nagging joint pain won't show up for another 20 years?

That's the challenge Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry, or MOSI, faces with its newest addition to "The Amazing You" exhibit.

Three million visitors have watched, played with and pondered the human body from its embryonic state through adolescence since phase one of "The Amazing You" opened two years ago. It's all presented in a kid-friendly way: A gaggle of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls and parts explain heredity traits. A piano keyboard expresses the bodily belches, farts and coughs that kids consider high art.

Saturday, phase two makes its debut, completing the life cycle post-puberty and offering a glimpse into middle and old age.

The problem: About 25 percent of MOSI's visitors are younger than 18. How do you make them care if they can't relate?

MOSI spent $1 million making grownups cool. The young adult area includes a robot decked out with various artificial limbs and an artificial heart. And like phase one, the addition uses interactive quizzes and hands-on activities, including a Wii Fit-type of game that requires a player to jump around hitting colorful lights.

While there's a level of seriousness to topics such as death and the grieving process, MOSI chief operating officer Wit Ostrenko says it's critical to find a way for kids and teens to relate.

They're not going to identify with the phases themselves, he says. "But they are going to see their parents, their grandparents, their great uncle or great aunt die and ... and it's very important that they have a clue of what that is before it happens in their family."

Land O' Lakes resident Kelly Thompson likes that her son Alex, 6, will get to see the effects of unhealthy living in the new exhibit.

One example: Visitors can take a longevity quiz that asks about behaviors such as smoking and teeth flossing. The final screen offers up an expected life expectancy. Party too much and forget to floss and you may die sooner rather than later.

"I want him to see what it''s like if he doesn't take care of his body," says Thompson, a nurse.

Ostrenko says like most exhibits at the Tampa science center, the addition has its controversial parts. A portion of adult life will be dedicated to stem cell research and the evolving science. It will highlight how research uses adult stem cells and not just debate-triggering embryonic stem cells. The exhibit also doesn't shy from mentioning diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

"Those conversations will continue in the car on the way home, at the dinner table and hopefully for the rest of their lives," Ostrenko says.

If anything, "The Amazing You" serves as a reminder that life isn't pretty or easy.

But it''s nice to know it sure can be fun, from beginning to end.

click here to email Mary Shedden




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