About five years ago, Kate Arrizza’s mother, Suzanne Capaldo, suffered a massive stroke. At St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach, doctors told Arrizza her mother was experiencing the biggest brain bleed the hospital had seen to date. They gave Capaldo 72 hours to live.
“My entire family came, and we were all ready to say goodbye,” Arrizza says. “I remember looking at her scans and staring at this huge white spot and having no idea what it was. Nobody in my family knew anything about the brain, which is why we had no idea what to expect when we got the news.”
Miraculously, after eight weeks in the ICU and rehab, Capaldo was sent home. “She came out on the other side,” Arrizza says. “It’s been a long road ever since, but it’s made me realize how wonderful the brain is.”
Ironically, weeks before Capaldo was admitted to the hospital, Arrizza, CEO of the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, was consumed with the museum’s latest permanent installation: “Journey Through the Human Brain.” It debuted in mid-March during Brain Awareness Week.
“I grew up coming to the Science Center,” says the now 39-year-old. “It’s been in my blood ever since I could walk. When my team and I were trying to come up with ways to advance the museum and appeal to older audiences, we knew we wanted to create something impactful for people of all ages.”
After about three years of development, the $2.5 million, 2,500-square-foot permanent installation is the most advanced exhibit on the human brain to be found anywhere in the world. Through a partnership with Florida Atlantic University’s Brain Institute, Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, Quantum Foundation and the Stiles-Nicholson Foundation, “Journey Through the Human Brain” covers everything from the brain’s molecular and cellular level to the integrated circuitry that creates hopes, fears and memories.
“The brain is endlessly fascinating, whether exploring how it generates our hopes and dreams or what goes wrong in brain disorders,” says Randy Blakely, Ph.D., executive director of the FAU Brain Institute. “Neuroscientists are giving us an increasingly detailed picture of how the brain is built and works, and we hope through this exhibit to inspire young minds to delve even deeper into brain science.”
Set up inside a new west wing of the Science Center there are more than 30 interactive installations for adults and children. Among them are an augmented reality brain projection and an immersive Brain Development Wall, detailing the growth of the brain over a lifetime. Other noteworthy highlights include the “Lie to Me” interactive, showcasing the effort the brain goes through to lie, and the “Senses, Thoughts and Emotions Gallery,” allowing visitors to explore sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch.
“The exhibit provides unique opportunities to engage and explore the expansive area of neuroscience,” says Nicole Baganz, Ph.D., FAU Brain Institute director of community engagement and programming. “Examples of exhibit experiences include a deep dive into brain anatomy; a tour through the senses and their connections to the brain; a perspective on facial recognition by identifying a lying face; and a head-banging engagement that reinforces the importance of helmets and the impact of repeated head blows.”
Since the exhibit’s debut, there has been expressed interest to replicate it at other museums across the country, Arrizza says, potentially bringing a new stream of revenue to the Science Center. In addition, the custom-built exhibit, which is also bilingual, is completely updatable, which means real-time groundbreaking neuroscience discoveries can be added to the exhibit in less than 24 hours by Arrizza and her team.
“It’s all come full circle,” she says. “Some of the doctors that treated my mother were here on opening day. There’s a place in the exhibit where you can scan a brain in something comparable to an MRI machine. It gives me such flashbacks because I remember looking at my mother’s scans and looking at this large white spot and asking what it was, and now I know it was the brain bleed. Between the exhibit and my mother, I’ve learned just how important brain health is, and now we’re sharing that with the public.”