The 20th Century preservation technique that allowed the HUMAN body to be showcased LIKE NEVER BEFORE.
Dr. Gunther von Hagens, a German anatomist and professor, invented plastination in 1977 at the University of Heidelberg. He soon patented the process and hosted the first plastination conference in 1982.
In 1983, von Hagens established a body donation program, to which there are now more than 15,000 donors worldwide (nearly 90% of whom are German).
By 1993, von Hagens had opened an Institute of Plastination and in 1995 the first Body Worlds exhibition opened in Japan.
Diagnosed in 2011 with Parkinson’s Disease, von Hagens is a committed member of the Body Donation Program.
Body Donation Program
All of the plastinated forms and individually-preserved specimens that are found in Body Worlds exhibitions and in the Experience Anatomy collection are derived from people who, during their lifetime, voluntarily consented to issue their body to the Institute of Plastination following their death for the purposes of medical education.
Prior to their death, an individual donor can revoke their donation, as can a family member after their relative’s passing.
What is Plastination?
Prior to plastination, cadavers were preserved using the 18th Century method of embalming or the 19th Century technique of formalin injection.
Plastination is a technique which preserves organic matter, in this case human tissues, indefinitely by replacing water and lipids with a curable plastic. This process renders the tissue dry, non-toxic, and odorless while retaining most of the original properties of the specimen.
The most widely seen use of plastination is in the traveling Body Worlds exhibitions.
The Plastination Process
Plastination is a six-step process. Full-body specimens take an average of 1,500 man-hours to prepare. Each plastinated specimen weighs the same amount as its weight as living tissue.
Formalin Fixation – A human cadaver is injected with formalin or formaldehyde gas dissolved in water. This process primarily disinfects tissues and secondarily halts decomposition.
Wet Dissection – Wet dissection describes the tedious process of removing connective tissues and isolating systems or regions for examination.
Dehydration & Degreasing – During this step, tissue is submerged in acetone to replace the water and remove all fat from the body.
Forced Impregnation with Reactive Polymers – The acetone introduced during the dehydration and degreasing process is replaced with a curable polymer.
Positioning – Wet, pliable, polymer tissues can now be posed into the final position that will prove to be most compelling or revelatory.
Curing with Gas, Light or Heat – The wet polymer is finally cured into the hardened, final product.
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