Thursday, 11 October 2012

Plastination: The Original Intention

The mastermind behind this operation is Gunther von Hagens, a controversial German anatomist who invented the technique for preserving biological tissue specimens called Plastination. (Barboza, D., 2006)

For the first 20 years plastination was used to preserve small specimens for medical study. It was not until the early 1990s that the equipment was developed to make it possible to plastinate whole body specimens, each specimen taking up to 1,500 person-hours to prepare.The first exhibition of whole bodies was displayed in Japan in 1995. Over the next two years, von Hagens developed the Body Worlds exhibition, showing whole bodies plastinated in lifelike poses and dissected to show various structures and systems of human anatomy, which has since met with public interest and controversy in more than 50 cities around the world. (Kaushik, 2011)

Initially, Dr. von Hagens says he had difficulty showing his human specimens in Europe, where he was called Dr. Death and Dr. Frankenstein. The European press even compared him to Josef Mengele, the Nazi death camp doctor. (Barboza, D., 2006)

Dr. von Hagens then came to China, where he said he found cheap labor, eager students, few government restrictions and easy access to Chinese bodies, which he said he primarily uses for experiments and medical research purposes, not for his exhibitions. (Barboza, D., 2006)

Let's go now to Dalian, in China Liaoning Province.

Elevated view of the entrance side of the Institute for Plastination.

In August1999, after people with influences pulled the strings, von Hagens moved his corpse-processing factory to the Hi-tech Industrial Park in Dalian and invested 15 million US dollars into the new company he founded here. That's where German doctor Gunther von Hagens set up a plastination company.The Dalian-based factory has so far produced tens of thousands of body specimens. (Gao, J., 2012)

Said von Hagens:" I want to show the human body as it has never been shown before. My ambition is to democratise anatomy. Before 1998, when I came on the scene, anatomy books contained no lifelike poses. Now they all have them. I gave anatomy life." (The Independent, 2007)

Body Worlds Exhibitions

Body Worlds is the original anatomical exhibition series displaying authentic human bodies, willed by donors through the Institute for Plastination’s Body Donor Program, and preserved using a process called plastination. Invented by Dr. von Hagens, plastination is a groundbreaking process in which real human specimens are preserved through the science of plastination. (Body Worlds, 2012)

The Method of Plastination

1. Embalming and Anatomical Dissection
The first step of the process involves halting decay by pumping formalin into the body through the arteries. Formalin kills all bacteria and chemically stops the decay of tissue. Using dissection tools, the skin, fatty and connective tissues are removed in order to prepare the individual anatomical structures.

2. Removal of Body Fat and Water
In the first step, the body water and soluble fats are dissolved from the body by placing it into a solvent bath (e.g., an acetone bath).

3. Forced Impregnation
This second exchange process is the central step in Plastination. During forced impregnation a reactive polymer, e.g., silicone rubber, replaces the acetone. To achieve this, the specimen is immersed in a polymer solution and placed in vacuum chamber. The vacuum removes the acetone from the specimen and helps the polymer to penetrate every last cell.

4. Positioning
After vacuum impregnation, the body is positioned as desired. Every single anatomical structure is properly aligned and fixed with the help of wires, needles, clamps, and foam blocks.

5.Curing (Hardening)
In the final step, the specimen is hardened. Depending on the polymer used, this is done with gas, light, or heat. Dissection and Plastination of an entire body requires about 1,500 working hours and normally takes about one year to complete.


Sources from The New York Times:

Sources from Amusing Planet:

Sources from Ministry of Tofu:

Sources from Body Worlds:


  1. Doesn't the process will frighten children?

  2. Do you mean the exhibition is not suitable for children?

  3. Depends on individual, but of course each visitors have been informed what kind of exhibition is that.