"Wellbody Academy," a fictional school dedicated to helping real youngsters learn about health and wellness, opens Saturday at the Pacific Science Center.

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Getting sneezed on isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.

But it didn’t bother 8-year-old Jonas Pierle at the Pacific Science Center Wednesday morning.

“It’s actually pretty disgusting — but fun,” Jonas said.

Jonas and two dozen other B.F. Day Elementary School students got a preview of the science center’s first major exhibit in more than a decade, the $7.5 million “Professor Wellbody’s Academy of Health & Wellness.”

The 7,000-square-foot exhibit, six years in the making, opens to the public Saturday.

If it succeeds, it may not only pave the way for more imaginative hands-on learning projects at the center, but — backers say — could help create a healthier citizenry.

The “sneeze” that hit Jonas? It was a blast of mist that appeared to come from a giant face on a projection screen. And with it came a blast of science, noting that a typical sneeze can consist of “40,000 particles of contagious gunk” traveling at 100 miles an hour.

If that knowledge prompts Jonas, or other visitors, to block their sneezes with tissues or even their sleeves, the exhibit will have taken a step in the right direction, backers say.

At the Wellbody Academy, visitors are regarded as students in a school created by fictional health-education visionary Eleanor Wellbody and developed by her nephew, Prof. Arden Wellbody.

In a half-dozen exhibit stations, students learn how decisions they make every day affect their health, and can have far-reaching effects.

That doesn’t mean sound choices have to be heroic. For example, one display says someone ordering a drive-in sandwich of chicken, bacon and cheese could cut the calories in half by skipping the bacon and cheese, and having the chicken grilled, rather than fried.

While Jonas was at the Sneeze Wall, another B.F. Day student, Mahdi Drake El, in a different part of the exhibit, pedaled vigorously on a recumbent bicycle. The lighted display in front of him said he’d have to pedal like that for 20 minutes to burn off a single, 12-ounce sugary soft drink.

Mahdi said the exhibit reinforces what he’s been learning about nutrition at school, and he’s making a point of eating more salads.

Other students, in a cafeterialike display, selected disks representing various types of food gliding by on a conveyor belt, and placing them into an “analyzer” that displayed their calorie count and nutritional value.

At Wednesday’s preview, Pacific Science Center President Bryce Seidl said the exhibit embodies a transformation at the center, which is “trying to become a more vital connection” between scientific research and people’s everyday lives.

Seidl credited Group Health with helping to get the project under way with an initial $50,000 grant. Over time, the health cooperative raised its contribution to $750,000.

Group Health President Scott Armstrong, attending Wednesday’s event, said the motivation for the exhibit stems partly from a troubling fact: that today’s younger generation is the first in history expected to live shorter lives that their parents.

To an extent, he said, that can be blamed on poor lifestyle choices, eating unhealthful foods and not getting enough physical activity.

The Pacific Science Center is run by a private, nonprofit foundation, which took over operation of the U.S. Science Pavilion at the close of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

About two years ago, the center started a fundraising campaign with a goal of $50 million by mid-2014.

Money raised so far has helped with the Wellbody exhibit, as well as a list of projects at the aging center, including repairing its ponds, adding an elevator, renovating the Paccar Imax Theater, enclosing a walkway, updating the heating system and installing thousands of square feet of new carpeting.

Another major donor to the Wellbody exhibit is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave $1 million.

Programming at the exhibit will be aided by multiyear grants from two federal agencies: the National Institutes of Health ($1.2 million) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services ($576,000).

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com