Paul Rosenthal (202) 633-3656
Maggie Dennis (202) 633-3441
Smithsonian Hosts Program Exploring Prosthetics and other Inventions
Is there anything about humans that technology can't mimic, replace or alter? Innovations in replacement body parts have often come from those who have been injured, whether it be an athlete, a car crash victim, or a soldier wounded in battle. "Artificial Parts," hosted by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History on Saturday, Feb. 28, will reveal how frustration can often inspire innovations that reinvent the human body and explore the fascinating history of prosthetics technology.
The program begins at 1 p.m. with "Active Lives, Active Duty," a panel session examining how athletes and soldiers are building their lives around these new devices. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, wounded soldiers are the recipients of cutting edge prosthetic technology. Ralph Urgolites, director of the Orthotics and Prosthetics Lab at Walter Reed, discusses the technologies taking us into territory once considered the realm of science fiction. Urgolites is joined by Van Phillips, inventor and user of the Flex-Foot™ and "cheetah leg" prosthetic limbs. Phillips's creations are designed for specialized use in a variety of activities. For example, star Paralympic athletes use Phillips's "cheetah leg." Museum curator Katherine Ott will explain how Phillips and Urgolites's efforts to rethink or augment human anatomy are building on medical technology and traditions that stretch back to wooden peg legs. Ott is the co-author of "Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics."
"'Artificial Parts' will help us think about how we have invented and used technologies and tools to assist and enhance our minds and bodies," said Arthur Molella, director of the Lemelson Center. "These tools, their creation and use, have implications for how we think about beauty, health, physical ability or intelligence."
The "Active Lives, Active Duty" panel session is followed by an afternoon of free activities, including demonstrations by Phillips and Urgolites, an "Extrasensory You" family workshop where participants will create their own "artificial parts," and behind-the-scenes explorations of the National Museum of American History's collection of artificial body parts, some of which are now on display in the Lemelson Center showcases at the museum. This display, called Inventing Ourselves, explores the history and design of artificial limbs, implantable devices (such as artificial hearts and hip joints), and even running shoes. It continues the Lemelson Center's year-long look at how inventors are using technology to push the limits of human life and ability.
All programs are free to the public, but tickets are required for the "Active Lives, Active Duty" program. All events take place on the first floor of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, 14th St. and Constitution Ave. NW.