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Biomedicine in museums

A spinning CT scanner as a cool museum artefact

One of the problems for museums that want to display contemporary medicine is that many medical devices are hopeless as museum artefacts because they are so damned anonymous.

Take CT scanners for example: huge white or light blue plastic/metal boxes, that’s all.

People who have been scanned for some serious condition may have strong personal feelings about such artefacts — but for the rest of us, they are pretty lousy museum objects. No immediate presence effects.

But yesterday’s post on Imre Kissík’s and András Székely’s ‘Indulge in the fascinating world of radiology and nuclear medicine’ blog almost makes me change my mind. They display a YouTube movie that shows the inner, rapidly spinning parts of a CT scanner in operation (plastic cabinet taken off).

There are actually quite a few spinning CT scanners on YouTube. Here is a General Electric ’64 barettes au travail rot’:


And here are 40 seconds of the brand new General Electric Brightspeed 16-slice CT system:


This unidentified ‘CT at max speed’ is particularly awesome, I think.


(note the background conversation!)

And more here, and so forth.

One thing is that taking the plastic/metal casing off and displaying the inner spinning device makes us better understand how a CT scanner works. It adds to the meaning of it.  But what really strikes me when seeing these clips is how the strip act changes the scanner as a museum artefact — from being an anonymous white silent behemoth to a lively noisy object with a lot of fascinating detail. Strong presence effects!

As a commentator on the ‘CT at max speed’-movie says (his spelling):

Monster Mashine, when you could see this, you never yould lie in it, it’s really fast and scary

In other words: imagine having that washing-machine-centrifugish thing spinning around your body! What if the bearings crack?

Maybe we could acquire a used ‘live’ CT scanner from the National Hospital for our exhibitions? We probably have to comply with some basic security rules for displaying machines at work — but that aside, I think it would be worth trying. So much better to show the real spinning thing than a 30 second bad quality movie on YouTube.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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