When families walk into the Palouse Science Discovery Center in Pullman, they’ll notice an addition to the EveryBODY Healthy exhibit, where visitors of all ages can wear doctors’ coats or play the role of patient in a hands-on hospital-like environment.
The new addition is a souped up game of “Operation.”
Like the classic board game, which debuted in the early 1960s, this version is about 4 feet by 3 feet in size and has many of the hallmarks of the game — bones, organs and a noise to let you know if your organ removal skills are a little shaky, though the buzzing sound of the original has been replaced with something less abrasive, according to Palouse Discovery Science Center Director Meri Joswiak.
Joswiak said it was Becky Highfill, president of the science center’s board, who suggested adding a version of the game to the already popular exhibit. Highfill also works for the Center for Learning and Innovation at Pullman Regional Hospital which donated equipment for the permanent exhibit, one of five at the center.
“The body is kid-sized,”Joswiak said. “Kids can go and really see the life-size comparison between themselves and the patient on the table and get a look at what life-size organs would look like,”
The station is dubbed the Surgery Skill Lab, and to make it a reality, the science center reached out to Washington State University Associate Professor Kuen-Ren (Roland) Chen. Chen teaches in the School of Mechanical and Material Engineering.
The game was designed by students in Chen’s senior design class and built by the students in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers student group at WSU. Chen said the project got started in the fall of 2020 and was designed entirely remotely. It would take the next year or so to finalize designs and start testing each design choice.
For WSU senior Joel Villanueva, working on the project was hands-on experience he couldn’t get in the classroom. He is vice president of the mechanical engineers’ group and was the project lead for the electrical portion of construction. There were two other leads, one for the building of the table and a second for creation of the removable organs.
“It was definitely really fun.” Villanueva said. “I really enjoyed it and it was also rewarding. I felt like I gained a lot of skills and experience,”
The game, Joswiak said, aims to be realistic enough to teach visitors but not enough to be off-putting. The bones were 3D printed and the organs were made of silicone in molds the students designed.
“We tried to make it really a good balance between realism and awesome, while not being grotesque and scary,” Joswiak said.
Chen knew building the game would take longer than a semester could provide and instead of changing the students each semester he asked the club if they would like to work on it. Chen would help finalize the design with Joswiak and then would pass it along to the students to let them take the lead.
Chen said he would check in on the students and said every student who showed up to the club, from freshmen to seniors and graduate students, took the time to add what they could.
“It’s really kind of changed the dynamic of the (exhibit) … and how kids are engaging,” Joswiak said. “And we see a lot more adults engaging in this space.”
Visitors interested in removing some bones and organs can visit the center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday or 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free for Palouse Science Discovery Center members, $6 for children, $6.50 for seniors and $7.50 for adults. The center is at 950 NE Nelson Court in Pullman
A free family science night is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Thursday. More information can be found at palousescience.net/visit.