Science

New British museum explores medicine's impact on life

A new medical museum featuring oddities such as a Peruvian mummy, 16th century dissection tables, and a robot used to sequence the human genome opened in London on Wednesday.

A new medical museum featuring oddities such as a Peruvian mummy, 16th century dissection tables, and a robot used to sequence the human genome opened in London on Wednesday.

The Peruvian mummy is coiled up with its knees to the chest. (CBC)
The $63 million permanent exhibit is dedicated to medicine and its impact on life. Curators selected the 1.5 million artifacts from the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome.

Wellcome, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector, travelled the Victorian world looking for treasures such as a lock of George III's hair, Napolean's toothbrush, Charles Darwin's walking stick with a skull-shaped handle, and Lord Nelson's razor.

The national museum combines medicine and art, and is a place for people interested in what it is to be human, said curator Ken Arnold.

"I find myself going back to a 12th, maybe 13th, century Peruvian mummy, which haunts me day and night," Arnold told CBC News.

"An extraordinary coiled-up figure, knees to chest, just with that sense of somebody else in a completely different time, a completely different culture."

An exhibit on the evolution of our understanding of the heart features the 1.5-metre-long heart of a sperm whale. The exhibit explores the symbolic power of the organ beyond its role as a biomechanical pump.

Lord Nelson's razor is among the artifacts in the museum. (CBC)
Removing body parts and pain are common themes in the exhibits, which include:
  • The heavy metal blade of a guillotine from the French Revolution.
  • Agruesome collection of bone saws used by doctors through the ages.
  • Dentist's chairs.
  • An uncomfortable looking Chinese torture chair with a blade on the arm rest.
  • Aztec sacrificial knives.

The artistic side includes a torso sculpture by John Isaacs called I can't help the way I feel,which explores obesity.

Other exhibits include Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings of the heart, Japanese sex aids, and displays that explore genetics and malaria as viewed by artists, scientists and popular culture, such as the work of Andy Warhol.

When Wellcome died in 1936, shares in his company were sold to form a trust. It is now one of the world's largest biomedical charities dedicated to promoting research and improving medical and scientific understanding.

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