Inventor of Plastination, Creator of BODY WORLDS

Genius & trailblazer Dr Gunther von Hagens is a physician, scientist, inventor and a forward thinker who has made the anatomy of the human body accessible to a wide audience in an unprecedented way.


"Dr Gunther von Hagens pushes the envelope – he is an intellectual daredevil and adventurer, the type humankind occasionally needs. Any society, however, would fall apart if all of its citizens were such types. At the same time, a society without any boundary-pushers is just as impossible, they are essential for the development of society. If no one risks failure, nothing new is attempted and there would be no development, only stagnation and decay. Progress is possible only if everything that is common is occasionally challenged. This sometimes requires breaking taboos to allow for creativity."
Franz Josef Wetz
Philosopher

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Credo


"The anatomist alone is assigned a specific role, he is forced in his daily work to reject the taboos and convictions that people have about death and the dead. I myself am not controversial, but my exhibitions are, because I am asking viewers to transcend their fundamental beliefs and convictions about our joint and inescapable fate.

I hope for the exhibitions to be places of enlightenment and contemplation, even of philosophy and religious self-recognition, and open to interpretation regardless of the background and philosophy of the viewer."

Dr Gunther von Hagens

1945

January 1, 1945 Born in Alt-Skalden (known today as Skalmierzyce, Poland).

1965▸68

At the age of 20, he began his studies in medicine at the University of Jena in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), East Germany.

1969▸70

In January 1969, he became a political prisoner in the GDR, however he was released when the Federal Republic of Germany, “West Germany” purchased his freedom.

1970▸73

After his liberation he continued his studies in Lübeck, where he passed his final exams in 1973, and, a year later received his license to practice medicine.

1974▸75

Dr Gunther von Hagens accepted a job offer by Heidelberg University, where he obtained his doctoral degree from the Department of Anesthesia and Emergency Medicine.

1977

He transferred to the Institute of Anatomy and Pathology, and shortly thereafter invented the technique of plastination.

1978

Founding of BIODUR Products, a company specialized in plastics and plastination equipment.

1978▸92

Registration and granting Registration and granting of patents in different countries. In the 80’s he began the first body donation program for plastination, nowadays more than 18.000 donors are registered.

1992

Completion of the first whole body plastinate.

1993

He founded the private Institute for Plastination , which opened up new dimensions for the further development of his invention.

1995

Creation of the first public BODY WORLDS exhibition together with curator Dr Angelina Whalley.

1997

Termination of the activity at the University of Heidelberg.

2004

Named visiting professor at the New York University College of Dentistry, USA.

2006

He established the Gubener Plastinate GmbH, a plastination laboratory in Guben, German. It is considered the world’s leading plastination research, development and preparation facility.

2010

Dr Gunther von Hagens decided to dedicate an entire exhibition to BODY WORLDS of animals and created the ANIMAL INSIDE OUT exhibition, which was shown in Germany for the first time. Public announcement of his Parkinson’s disease.

2010&11

Awarded with the Health Media Award for the best science communication.

2013

The Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC), representing 650 science centers and museums in nearly 50 countries, honored him with a lifetime achievement award for outstanding contribution to the public understanding of science.

2015▸18

Opened a series of BODY WORLDS permanent exhibition in Berlin, Amsterdam and Heidelberg.

today

To this day, Dr Gunther von Hagens is involved in a large number of projects, in particular the further development and perfection of plastination, special plastics and process engineering.

1945

January 1, 1945 Born in Alt-Skalden (known today as Skalmierzyce, Poland).

1965▸68

At the age of 20, he began his studies in medicine at the University of Jena in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), East Germany.

1969▸70

In January 1969, he became a political prisoner in the GDR, however he was released when the Federal Republic of Germany, “West Germany” purchased his freedom.

1970▸73

After his liberation he continued his studies in Lübeck, where he passed his final exams in 1973, and, a year later received his license to practice medicine.

1974▸75

Dr Gunther von Hagens accepted a job offer by Heidelberg University, where he obtained his doctoral degree from the Department of Anesthesia and Emergency Medicine.

1977

He transferred to the Institute of Anatomy and Pathology, and shortly thereafter invented the technique of plastination.

1978

Founding of BIODUR Products, a company specialized in plastics and plastination equipment.

1978▸92

Registration and granting Registration and granting of patents in different countries. In the 80’s he began the first body donation program for plastination, nowadays more than 18.000 donors are registered.

1992

Completion of the first whole body plastinate.

1993

He founded the private Institute for Plastination , which opened up new dimensions for the further development of his invention.

1995

Creation of the first public BODY WORLDS exhibition together with curator Dr Angelina Whalley.

1997

Termination of the activity at the University of Heidelberg.

2004

Named visiting professor at the New York University College of Dentistry, USA.

2006

He established the Gubener Plastinate GmbH, a plastination laboratory in Guben, German. It is considered the world’s leading plastination research, development and preparation facility.

2010

Dr Gunther von Hagens decided to dedicate an entire exhibition to BODY WORLDS of animals and created the ANIMAL INSIDE OUT exhibition, which was shown in Germany for the first time. Public announcement of his Parkinson’s disease.

2010&11

Awarded with the Health Media Award for the best science communication.

2013

The Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC), representing 650 science centers and museums in nearly 50 countries, honored him with a lifetime achievement award for outstanding contribution to the public understanding of science.

2015▸18

Opened a series of BODY WORLDS permanent exhibition in Berlin, Amsterdam and Heidelberg.

today

To this day, Dr Gunther von Hagens is involved in a large number of projects, in particular the further development and perfection of plastination, special plastics and process engineering.

the-plastination-technique-05

The Anatomist’s Hat

Rembrandt’s painting of anatomist Dr Nicolaes Tulp illustrates the custom of anatomy artists of the Renaissance wearing a hat, which they would keep on, even during autopsies. In doing so, they demonstrated their independence from the social norms of their time.

Many associate Gunther von Hagens with his black hat. But his hat is not intended to be a hallmark. Rather, it symbolises his understanding and appreciation for democracy and individualism. He believes that the strength of Western democracy lies within the promotion of individualism, based on the motto “live and let live.

The Robin Hood of Anatomy

A life for science

Dr Gunther von Hagens curriculum vitae shows the profile of a scientist who was influenced by extraordinary events, and whose outstanding qualities include courage, perseverance and also a certain defiance.

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At the age of six, Dr Gunther von Hagens almost bled to death following an accident. He spent months in intensive care. His daily contact with doctors and nurses shaped his desire to become a doctor.

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In medical school, his unorthodox methods and distinctive personality were remarkable enough to be noted in academic reports:

„Gunther is a personality who does not approach tasks systematically. In some cases, he develops very idiosyncratic and unusual ways of working, which do not harm the seminar group in any way, but on the contrary encourage many fellow students to review their own work.“

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While still at university, Dr Gunther von Hagens began to doubt communism and socialism. When his attempt to escape across the Czech border to Austria failed, he was imprisoned for two years in the GDR.

Today Dr Gunther von Hagens can find meaning in those lost years in captivity:

„The freedom taken away from me strengthened my perseverance. Everything I learned in prison was of great benefit to me in my later life as a doctor and inventor.“

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In 1970 his freedom is bought by the Federal Republic of Germany, and already in 1977, at the beginning of his almost 20-year career at the University of Heidelberg, he invents plastination, his ground-breaking method for the preservation of anatomical specimens using reactive plastics.

Dr Gunther von Hagens patents the process and has since devoted all his energy to the further development of the technology. In 1992 he marries Dr Angelina Whalley. In 1993, they found the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, which opens up new dimensions for the work of the two doctors. Dr Angelina Whalley. is now Managing Director and Dr von Hagen's Scientific Director of the Institute.

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In 1995, the two physicians are invited by the Japanese Anatomical Society to participate with the plastinates in an exhibition at the National Science Museum in Tokyo.

The exhibition is unexpectedly successful – more than 450,000 people attend the show in just four months. At the end of 1997, it will be shown for the first time in Mannheim, where Dr Gunther von Hagens and Dr Angelina Whalley, who is responsible for the content, conception and design of the exhibitions, finally achieve their international breakthrough.

With their exhibitions, the two scientists not only provide health education, their presentations have also revolutionised the museum world and demonstrably changed the way visitors see their own bodies.

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In 2006, von Hagens founds Gubener Plastinate GmbH, the largest plastination centre in the world, where most of the plastination work is carried out.

Attached to the publicly accessible PLASTINARIUM, a symbiosis of anatomical workshop and exhibition, it opens its workshops for the first time to a wide audience and offers unique insights into the art of anatomical preservation and the various steps of the production of plastinates.

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Today, ten BODY WORLDS exhibitions of humans and animals are touring the world, some of which are permanent exhibitions and museums, such as in Berlin, Heidelberg and Amsterdam.

In an effort to test the limits of a life in freedom, Dr Gunther von Hagens has made incredible efforts to democratise anatomy and defend his view worldwide.

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At the end of 2010, Dr Gunther von Hagens publicly announced his Parkinson's disease. He is also an anatomist and enlightener in terms of his illness and treatment: in some exhibitions, an X-ray image shows his head with a brain pacemaker and the implanted electrodes – of course he wears his hat here too.

In recent years, his public appearances have become rarer and he has retired from active business, transferring the management of Gubener Plastinate GmbH to his son Rurik von Hagens. His zeal for work, however, remains unbroken to this day. He is always concerned with one thing above all else: science.

„I live to work. Hardly anything else can fascinate me or mean so much to me.“

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Thoughts