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A new installment of the popular “Body Worlds” franchise – the Cirque du Soleil of the science museum circuit – opens today and runs through the summer at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

The focal point is a dozen glass-enclosed bodies that have been donated to science and, through a process called “plastination,” are able to graphically display anatomy, physiology and health in a way that’s seldom seen. The exhibition also includes skeletons, healthy and diseased body parts, informational text panels, large photographs and computerized simulations and projections.

“When you look at this exhibit, you marvel at the human body, in terms of the complexity and what it takes to work,” said Dr. Michael Cropp, president and CEO of Independent Health, co-presenting sponsor of the exhibit with M&T Bank. “When you see a normal human body, and all that intricacy, and then you see something that is not normal, you begin to understand the impact of health and how important it is to take care of yourself.”

It may be hard for some to get past the skinless bodies stripped down to a mass of organs, tissue, bones, blood vessels and genitalia. Still there’s no denying the educational value of looking at how humans function – and, eventually, how they don’t.

Cropp said he thought children seeing the 6,000-square-foot exhibit – which isn’t recommended for those under 10 – would have a “natural tendency” to look past what might at first look pretty creepy.

“The exhibit is a nice blend of the right number of bodies with the other informational pieces and, I think, allows the distance that certain kids might need,” Cropp said.

Mark Mortenson, the museum’s president and CEO, said he appreciated the “artful manner” in which the show is presented. It begins with seven fiberglass casts of torsos reflecting a variety of body shapes.

The 2009 “Body Worlds & the Story of the Heart,” which ran for three months that summer and drew 160,000 people, doubling the science museum’s average attendance, was a box office bonanza – “by far the most popular and economically advantageous exhibit for the time frame,” Mortenson said.

Among the eye-popping displays of this installation is the “Body of Open Doors,” where the torso’s front wall is folded, internal organs are turned out and the chest cavity and muscles are visible. In “The Singer,” the body’s chest is split open to reveal lung capacity, the heart and musculature.

Health is stressed, and there are informational panels on the effects of smoking, obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart ailments. Corroded or blackened plastinate organs such as the lungs graphically illustrate damage that can be done to the body.

Thoughtful messages about health appear on large wall panels, including by the Lebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran. He’s quoted next to the photograph of a child saying, “Your body is the harp of your soul, and it is yours to bring forth sweet music from it, or confused sounds.”

A colorful photo gallery shows families from several countries with the food they ate over the course of a week, and what it cost. The U.S. family appeared to have consumed the most fast food, and the fewest fruits and vegetables.

The plastination process, which halts the body’s decomposition and preserves anatomical specimens for scientific and medical education, was invented by Dr. Gunther von Hagens in 1977. The Body Worlds exhibitions began in 1995, and since then a dozen variations with different themes have toured the world.

Mayor Byron W. Brown was on hand for the opening ceremony Thursday, where he touted the exhibit’s potential for bringing people to the city-owned building, which has received $700,000 in city funds for upgrades since 2009. In June, the museum will open the third of its eight planned immersive, hands-on science studios, to go with its National Geographic 3-D theater and other ongoing changes.

“This will attract people into the city all summer, not only as tourists but also to learn about their bodies and the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles,” the mayor said.

Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tickets for museum members are $6 for adults and $5 for children and seniors, and range between $12 and $15 for nonmembers. Supporting sponsors are Harris Beach Attorneys at Law, and media partners Lamar and The Buffalo News.

email: msommer@buffnews.com