Gazing intently at the white spots on his hands under an ultraviolet light, Washington Elementary first-grader Luke Schewer summed up his feelings succinctly.

"Germs! Gross!"

He instantly pulled his hands out and backed away from the light, looking around for a bathroom to wash his hands.

From the role of bacteria to the function of the major organs, hundreds of young students in Hamilton got a hands-on experience in health science on Monday at Westview School, as the University of Montana's spectrUM Discovery Area brought its popular "Hands on Health" exhibit to town. The traveling gallery will be on display for students in kindergarten through eighth grade in the Hamilton School District all week, and then will travel to Victor School on March 28 for four more days of outreach.

"Hands on Health" features interactive science exhibits and activities exploring health professions and sciences, including a giant runny nose and broken bones and X-rays that students can diagnose.

There will also be guided cow eyeball and heart dissections, a life-size medical torso for simulated surgery, and an in-depth model of the human brain.

"This project will provide unforgettable hands-on learning to more than 2,000 Ravalli County schoolchildren," said spectrUM director Holly Truitt.

On Monday afternoon, students from Washington Elementary divided into groups and spent a few hours intently exploring the colorful displays.

The kids were wide-eyed as they played with life-sized replicas of the liver, stomach, kidneys and other organs.

Amanda Duley, a researcher at Rocky Mountain Labs, volunteered to guide the kids for the afternoon. She laughed as the kids squished up their noses when she explained which organs produced urine and bile.

"They all say the same thing when I tell them what urine is," she said with a grin. "Ewww. But they love this."

The students then crowded around a light table where one of the UM representatives showed them X-rays of broken bones, asking the kids to pick out the differences between certain bones.

"This has been phenomenal," said Washington first-grade teacher Danyelle Johnson. "The kids are just having a great time and learning a lot. It's a perfect educational program. They especially love the giant nose."

SpectrUM has traveled the state with a mobile science center since 2007, and the visit to Hamilton is sponsored by the Greater Ravalli Foundation, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, the Western Montana Area Health Education Center, Hamilton School District and the UM Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience.

Teachers who would like to arrange class field trips to spectrUM, which cost $3.50 per student, can call (406) 243-4828. To arrange for spectrUM to visit a school or organization, go to or call the same number.

The exhibit will be free and open for the public to explore from 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, March 24 at Westview School.

Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or