Wonderful Things: Prosthetic legs

Did you watch the great performances of runners with prosthetic legs in the Paralympics?

Prosthetics are devices used to replace missing body parts.  Their use goes back to the fifth Egyptian Dynasty (2750-2625 B.C.) and they were further developed as amputation of limbs became used as a lifesaving measure in medicine.

Earlier prosthetic legs were made of copper and wood like this one found in The Science and Art of Medicine  gallery in the Science Museum.

A European prosthetic leg, 1880-1908

A European prosthetic leg, 1880-1908

While they were only used for basic functions like standing and walking, the present prosthetic legs have now evolved to make people more mobile, with more sophisticated functions – for example, enabling them to run in Paralympics. Indeed, Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius, the fastest man on no legs, ran the final round in the 2004 Summer Paralympics 200-meter event with the world record of 21.97 seconds!

GeniumTM Bionic Prosthetic System: for professional runners (left) and for everyday use (right)

It is expected that the development of prosthetic legs will go far beyond just running, and continue to improve their users’  quality of life. How far we have come, not only in the development of prosthetics, but also in our perception of disability. Oscar also competed in the Olympics, and folks even debated whether his ‘blades’ gave him an unfair advantage!

  • Do you think the boundary between Olympics and Paralympics will disappear by the development of the technology for prosthetic body parts?
  • Would you like prosthetic body parts, if they allowed you to swim faster, climb higher, or even fly with them?

The Genium Bionic legs are temporarily on display in Antenna gallery, Wellcome Wing ground floor. The European wooden leg is in The Science and Art of Medicine, on the fifth floor.

-Anita, Bancha, Sunkyung, Atsushi, & Daizo

By the way, a couple weeks ago we hit up the Wellcome Collection’s awesome Superhuman exhibition, all about the ways we have enhanced and adapted our bodies through history- and it’s really worth checking out.

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