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Children (and let's be honest, some adults, too) are often ridiculed when caught behaving in a gross and inappropriate manner, but there are always exceptions to the rules of etiquette - and at spectrUM, everyone gets a free pass.

So, go ahead. Pick that nose.

SpectrUM Discovery Area, established two years ago, is a hands-on science learning center for children, housed on the University of Montana campus. The new "Hands on Health" exhibit, which opened earlier this month, is designed to teach kids about five different types of health professions as a way of encouraging students to begin thinking about entering the medical field.

"It works well and looks gross," said Jessie Gajewski, museum operations manager, of the 3-foot-tall nose planted in the middle of the room.

The giant nose is hard to miss and a popular attraction among the kids. The science station was based off a similar idea from the popular touring exhibit "Grossology." The nose was made in Spokane by a company that makes stage props for theater. The only difference between this nose and noses at science museums elsewhere is that the staff at spectrUM decided to load the big snout.

The task at hand: Figure out why the nose is running.

Children swab the inside of a nostril using a 6-inch-long Q-Tip and then place the yellow gunk (Relax. It's petroleum jelly.) under a microscope. Not to worry. No flu outbreaks. Whew! Just pollen.

It's one of several stations that teach kids about everything from working as a nutritionist to a nurse to a surgeon.

Children learn how much sugar is contained in a can of soda, listen to their heart beat, learn the implications of ineffective hand washing, look at X-rays and touch dissected pig, sheep and cow hearts.

SpectrUM, in coordination with the western Montana Area Health Education Center, developed the exhibit. Its $23,000 cost was paid for by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana.

It's the first exhibit in the museum's two-year history that was totally designed in-house, as opposed to bringing in exhibits from out-of-state science museums. SpectrUM is located in the Skaggs Building, which also houses the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences. In that respect, it makes sense for the children's museum to focus on health-related fields, said Grace Decker, program coordinator for the Western Montana Area Health Education Center.

The exhibit will be on display through February, when it will take to the road, traveling across Montana to rural towns and cities. There's a huge shortage of health care providers in the state, Decker said. Montana has no medical school, and often medical students stay to work where they study. So this is a way to begin having kids think about the medical profession and the need for doctors, nurses, nutritionists and X-ray technicians in Montana, she said.

Exhibits at spectrUM change about every four to five months, Gajewski said. Each exhibit attracts about 9,000 children, mostly from kindergarten to fifth grade.

SpectrUM is open every Thursday from 3:30-7 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The spectrUM Discovery Area charges a one-time admission of $3.50 for children 4 and older. Children 3 and younger are free. Free passes for families in need are available for checkout at the Missoula Public Library.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

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