The Method of Plastination

Plastination Process

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Plastination is a relatively simple process designed to preserve the body for educational and instructional purposes. Plastination, like many revolutionary inventions, is simple in concept:

  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.
    The Plastination process itself is based on two exchange processes.

  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.

Plastination was invented by Dr. Gunther von Hagens in 1977 at the University of Heidelberg, Germany and has continuously been developed since then. Plastination is a technique that stops the decomposition of a deceased body and produces solid, odorless and durable anatomical specimens for scientific, medical and public instruction without the use of glass barriers or formaldehyde. A whole-body plastinate requires approximately 1,500 working hours to complete.

A Joint Quest Towards Enlightenment Between Donor, Anatomist and Visitor

Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS is a collaboration – a joint quest towards enlightenment between donor, anatomist and visitor. Created by Dr. von Hagens - the leading anatomist of our time - BODY WORLDS is the only anatomical exhibition fueled by intellectual curiosity, forged in the heat of scientific discovery, enabled by the generosity of donors, shaped by the anatomist’s awe of the human body and supported by the aspirations of visitors yearning to know more.

Donors who so generously willed their bodies for the purpose of Plastination - to educate the public about anatomy and physiology - take center stage in this unprecedented homage to humanity. Excluding a small number of organs and specimens acquired from anatomical collections and morphological institutes, the plastinated specimens on display in Gunther von Hagens’ BODY WORLDS exhibitions stem from a unique body donation program established in Heidelberg, Germany in 1982, and later managed by the Institute for Plastination (IfP) in Heidelberg, established in 1993.

BODY WORLDS uses donated bodies of people who, during their lifetime, willed their bodies for Plastination and the education of many. From the beginning, the donors were excited about the groundbreaking technique of Plastination and recognized that they were going to be part of something unprecedented. They wanted to make the education of future generations their enduring legacy.

The donors’ participation in this aesthetic, dynamic and compelling tribute to the human body is facilitated by anatomist, Dr. Gunther von Hagens: The creator of BODY WORLDS and the inventor of Plastination, the method of specimen preservation that he first pioneered for the education of medical students.

Visitors to BODY WORLDS are also full participants in the scientific quest. Their efforts to fathom the mysteries of the human body, to honor its splendor and fragility, to claim solidarity with the donors and recognize humanity’s joint and inescapable fate are marked by great curiosity, awe and gratitude.

To learn more about the body donation process, click here.