Body Works 2 offers unique look at anatomy

by Beacon Staff • October 25, 2006

Well, not anymore.

Thanks to Dr. Gunther von Hagens' unique plastination process, it is possible to create an exact replica of a human body by extracting all of the fluids from donated human bodies and then replacing them with plastic and chemicals (like acetone and polymers).,Understanding the human body has always been a complicated and mystifying quest.

Well, not anymore.

Thanks to Dr. Gunther von Hagens' unique plastination process, it is possible to create an exact replica of a human body by extracting all of the fluids from donated human bodies and then replacing them with plastic and chemicals (like acetone and polymers).

Throughout the year-long process, the organic body matter slowly falls away, leaving the plastic versions of whole bodies, organs and body slices. Actual human tissue determines the look and feel of the finished specimen, according to the Body Worlds Web site.

Body Worlds 2, an exhibit of von Hagens' plastinates, is currently at the Boston Museum of Science. More than 200 authentic human specimens are on display, from whole bodies to individual organs.

At the exhibit, people stood in awe, from the guy in the corner who seemed to be mentally comparing his penis size to that of the "Body Builder" to the elderly woman gazing at a plastinate with such an intense look in her eye that you wonder if she had known the subject at some point in time.

Some plastinates show only bone structure or only muscles, or only the body's nervous system. Others have partial skin covering the body while others have none.

While every specimen in the exhibit is incredible, certain areas draw greater crowds than others. The most popular include a giant camel and, perhaps most moving, the human development section which features embryos in multiple stages of gestation, along with a woman, five months pregnant, with her child still curled in the womb.

Other exhibits include a comparison between a healthy lung and a smoker's blackened tissue. Some bodies are posed like athletes, such as a soccer player.

When asked about the rumor that the bodies were Asian prisoners obtained unethically, Jonathan Burke, vice president of visitor services and operations at the museum, said there are some exhibits that use bodies from various parts of the world and obtain them in various ways but, contrary to rumor, all bodies used in Dr. von Hagens' exhibition were donated via donor consent form. In the end, however, "they are all the same: dead body exhibits," Burke said.

Some reasons given by donors for donating range from "I wish to save on the costs of a funeral" to "my greatest hope with plastination is that in the event I contribute nothing in life, I may do so in death."

The most important thing to Burke is that "people walk away with respect for the beauty and complexity of the human body. Seeing a clogged artery might make you think twice about eating that french fry."

If the clogged artery doesn't do it, the body-slice comparison of a 200-pound man who died prematurely due to heart failure to a 120-pound man sure will. The layer of fat that encircles the overweight man's body reaches at least 4 inches in certain areas and the resulting strain on his organs was indeed fatal.

Nearly 200,000 people have seen the exhibit in Boston so far, and up to 5,000 people a day filter through Science Park in their quest to understand themselves better.

Visitors include school children, college students, doctors, medical students, massage therapists, athletes and more.

With a better understanding of your body after seeing Body Worlds 2, you cannot help but have a greater respect for yourself and those around you. Maybe you'll even cast a second glance the next time you run into a body builder on the street.