The Plastination method was invented by Dr.Gunther von Hagens (pictured above with Dr. Angelina Whalley) in 1977 at the Heidelberg University and has been further developed ever since.
The Plastination Process
The Plastination method was invented by Dr. Gunther von Hagens in 1977 at the Heidelberg University and has been further developed ever since. It is an innovative preservation method which is used in anatomy that replaces body fluids with curable polymers. Plastinated specimens can be touched, do not smell or decay, and even retain most of the properties of the original sample.
There are five steps in the standard process of Plastination:
- Forced polymer impregnation
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 process of plastination is based on two exchange processes, step 2 and 3:
2. Removal of Body Fat and Water
After any necessary dissections take place, the specimen is then placed in a bath of acetone. Under freezing conditions, the acetone draws out all the water and replaces it inside the cells.
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 a vacuum chamber. The vacuum removes the acetone from the specimen and helps the polymer penetrate every last cell.
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.
In the final step the plastic is then cured with gas, heat or ultraviolet light, in order to harden it. Dissection and Plastination of an entire body requires about 1,500 working hours and normally takes about one year to complete.
Specimens in BODY WORLDS
Anatomical specimens in BODY WORLDS includes silicone plastinates, sheet plastinates, blood vessel configurations, skeletons and skulls. The majority of the specimens are preserved through the revolutionary technique of Plastination.
Silicone Plastinates include almost every body part from organs and nerve systems to whole body specimens. Their unique three-dimensional complexity illustrates the intricate structure of the musculoskeletal system and the inner organs as well as their relative position to each other. These specimens keep their natural form, they are durable, flexible, authentic and do not shrink. Silicone Plastinates are odorless and not harmful to our health.
Sheet Plastinates are 1-5 millimeter thick plastinated body slices from real human bodies. All bodily liquids of the specimens have been replaced by polymers. The colouration process uses body slices frozen at – 70°C that are thawed out temporarily. This allows for an unprecedented distinction between the various body tissues such as tight connective tissue and musculature or skin and subcutaneous tissue.
In comparison to well-known diagnostic pictures of computer tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance tomography (MRT), sheet plastinates illustrate anatomical structures, in colour, either transparent or translucent.
Blood Vessel Configurations
Blood Vessel Configurations are perfect samples of the inner profiles of blood vessels. They are three-dimensional and illustrate the complex work of blood vessels in the human body, an organ or body system. They are formed by injecting the vessels with dyed plastic. By the time the plastic has cured, it has taken the shape of the vessels. The surrounding soft tissue can then be removed mechanically and chemically with the aid of ferments. In this way, the arteries can be made visible down to their most minute and intricate clusters of capillaries.
Often, only the main arterial branches are shown. If the tiniest vessels, the capillaries, were also injected, the network would be so dense that one could not look through it, seeing as there isn't anywhere in the body that is more than 1/200 of a millimeter from a capillary.