Anatomy with Google Body Browser

Twice in the past eight years, I’ve been lucky enough to have one of the Body Worlds exhibits in San Jose, CA during my 8th grade anatomy unit. Each time I’ve taken students to see the exhibit, it’s been an incredible culminating experience to our study of human biology, allowing students to see actual human systems, how they fit together, and how life choices affect our organs and survival. In the years when the exhibit has not been in town, I’ve struggled to come up with a way to bring a similar experience to my students (using a frog dissection as an analogy just doesn’t measure up!).

As I strolled the exhibit hall at the NSTA National Conference, one booth amazed me with their innovative (and free!) solution to my Body Worlds dilemma. The engineers and educators behind Google’s “Body Browser” offer up an incredible tool that allows students to browse a 3-D, interactive model of the human body. A simple set of sliders allows students to peel away and zoom in on the systems of the human body. Discovering how the complex network of blood vessels feed muscles throughout the body is as easy as transposing the circulatory on the muscular system, giving you a 3-D model that then allows you then zoom in on the muscles, veins and arteries in any part of the body. Want to share a particular view that you’ve created on your screen? One more click gives you a link that will retrieve your customized view. While Google Body Browser is not new to Google Labs, they just released a major update to the tool, adding new features such as being able to change the model’s gender, add labels to your model, and “pinning” a particular organ so that it remains visible as you change views.

Innovative Uses In The Classroom

  • A Body Systems Scavenger Hunt – Give students a set of tasks, such as “find a ball and socket joint” or “show how the digestive and circulatory systems work together to meet the body’s survival needs.” Students use Google Body Browser to find a view that shows each of the scavenger hunt tasks and use the note tool to explain and justify their display. They then share their views with the teacher and classmates using the “share this view” link feature.
  • 3-D Quiz & Test Diagrams – Create a specific view of the human body to accompany a quiz or test question. Create a custom view link and have students visit your 3-D model to answer the question. They can interact with and explore the model, making this approach ideal for higher level thinking question, such as “Visit and explain how the muscles, bones, and connective tissue show in this particular joint work together to allow movement.”

How do you use Google Body Browser to enhance your students’ learning? Share your ideas in the comments section.

Access Google Body Browser at

About The Author

Mike Matthews

Michael is a National Board Certified Science teacher. He currently serves as the Director of Curriculum and Program Innovation at an Independent School in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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03 2011

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