Technique of plastination!

Thanks to the plastination technique, the interior of the body can now be depicted in more detail than ever before. The specimens remain dry, odourless and durable for an unlimited period of time. They are therefore invaluable for medical education, not only for aspiring doctors, but also for educating the general public.

Step by step

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Fixation

First, the body is fixed, i.e. the process of decomposition in the body is halted by pumping a formalin solution into the body's arterial system. After about three to four hours, all bacteria have been killed and the anatomical dissection can begin.

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Anatomical dissection

For this purpose, skin and subcutaneous fatty tissue are removed. Organs, muscles and tendons as well as nerves and vessels are surrounded by a thin layer of fibrous connective tissue, which is carefully removed with tweezers, scalpel and scissors. The exposure of the anatomical structures requires not only anatomical knowledge and manual skill but also a lot of patience. Depending on the complexity, dissection takes 500 to 1000 working hours.

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Removal of body fat and water

After dissection, the actual plastination process begins. In the first step, the body water, which makes up 70% of the human body, is replaced by a solvent, e.g. acetone. The specimen is placed in an ice-cold acetone bath, which gradually draws out the body water. The acetone bath is then heated to room temperature to dissolve the soluble fats from the tissue. The process of removing the water and fat takes about 3-4 months.

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Forced impregnation

The next step is the central step of the plastination process. The acetone is exchanged with a reactive polymer, e.g. silicone rubber. This is done in a vacuum chamber filled with the liquid plastic. By creating a vacuum, the polymer in the specimen begins to boil. The acetone vaporising from the tissue is extracted, and the vacuum thus created in the specimen ensures that the plastic solution is drawn into every last cell. This process takes 2 to 5 weeks.

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Positioning

The silicon-rubber-impregnated specimen is initially still flexible and posable. The body is placed in the desired pose, each individual anatomical structure is correctly positioned and fixed in place with the help of wires, needles, clamps and other aids. Positioning requires great anatomical expertise, design skills and a sense of aesthetics. The whole process can take anything from a few weeks to several months.

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Gas curing

In a final step, the silicon-impregnated specimen is hardened (cured) using a special gas. For this purpose, an airtight chamber is built around the specimen. Light or heat is used for other plastics, such as polyester and epoxy resins. With the hardening, the plastination process is completed and the plastinate is permanently protected from decay.

1970's

While working as an anatomical assistant at the University of Heidelberg, Dr Gunther von Hagens sees specimens embedded in plastic blocks for the first time. He wonders why the plastic has been poured around the specimen in a block rather than stabilizing the specimen from within.

1977

During a research project on human kidneys Dr Gunther von Hagens is inspired by the idea for plastination. On January 10, 1977, he held the first plastinate of a kidney in his hands. Plastination is thus invented. He realises that this invention will become his life’s work.

1978

Dr Gunther von Hagens spends the next twenty years at the Anatomical Institute of the Heidelberg University as a lecturer and scientist. During this time, he continuously enhances his method of plastination, and makes further inventions, such as the plastination of thin translucent slices. Many patents follow.

1978

His technology is noticed at professional conferences. In order to make his breakthrough in the field of anatomy available to other universities, Dr Gunther von Hagens founds the BIODUR company. Today BIODUR continues to sell supplies and equipment for plastination worldwide.

1980's

Dr Gunther von Hagens establishes his own body donation programme. Today, more than 19,400 body donors are registered worldwide (as of April 2020).

1982

The first Conference on Plastination is held in Texas, and in this context the International Society for Plastination (ISP) is founded. From then on international Plastination conferences are held every two years.

1993

The Plastination method continues to evolve and eventually reaches dimensions that outgrow its home at the university. Dr Gunther von Hagens founds the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg.

1995

Plastinated specimens are publicly displayed for the first time at the National Science Museum in Tokyo. The exhibition sees more than 450,000 visitors in four months.

1997

Under the name BODY WORLDS the exhibition is shown for the first time in Germany. Unlike in Japan, the exhibition in Germany is accompanied by fierce public controversy.

2000

The latest developments in plastics allow the production of mechanically robust “corrosion specimens”. In producing blood vessel configurations, the surrounding soft tissues are usually corroded away with enzymes or acids.

2004

BODY WORLDS exhibition will be shown for the first time at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. With further exhibitions in renowned science centres, BODY WORLDS exhibitions inspire visitors throughout North America.

2008

New developments allow for plastinated body slices to be coloured as needed. Colouration allows for distinctions between the various body tissues such as tight connective tissue and musculature or skin.

2010

Plastination enters new dimensions with the plastination of the first large animal, “Samba.” The completion of the world’s first plastinated elephant is the starting point for the BODY WORLDS: ANIMAL INSIDE OUT exhibition.

2013

Dr Gunther von Hagens is recognised by the ASTC (International Association of Science and Technology Centers) for his life's work and his outstanding contribution to the to the public understanding of science.

2017

The BODY WORLDS exhibition celebrates its 20th anniversary.

1970er

While working as an anatomical assistant at the University of Heidelberg, Dr Gunther von Hagens sees specimens embedded in plastic blocks for the first time. He wonders why the plastic has been poured around the specimen in a block rather than stabilizing the specimen from within.

1977

During a research project on human kidneys Dr Gunther von Hagens is inspired by the idea for plastination. On January 10, 1977, he held the first plastinate of a kidney in his hands. Plastination is thus invented. He realises that this invention will become his life’s work.

1978

Dr Gunther von Hagens spends the next twenty years at the Anatomical Institute of the Heidelberg University as a lecturer and scientist. During this time, he continuously enhances his method of plastination, and makes further inventions, such as the plastination of thin translucent slices. Many patents follow.

1978

His technology is noticed at professional conferences. In order to make his breakthrough in the field of anatomy available to other universities, Dr Gunther von Hagens founds the BIODUR company. Today BIODUR continues to sell supplies and equipment for plastination worldwide.

1980er

Dr Gunther von Hagens establishes his own body donation programme. Today, more than 19,400 body donors are registered worldwide (as of April 2020).

1982

The first Conference on Plastination is held in Texas, and in this context the International Society for Plastination (ISP) is founded. From then on international Plastination conferences are held every two years.

1993

The Plastination method continues to evolve and eventually reaches dimensions that outgrow its home at the university. Dr Gunther von Hagens founds the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg.

1995

Plastinated specimens are publicly displayed for the first time at the National Science Museum in Tokyo. The exhibition sees more than 450,000 visitors in four months.

1997

Under the name BODY WORLDS the exhibition is shown for the first time in Germany. Unlike in Japan, the exhibition in Germany is accompanied by fierce public controversy.

2000

The latest developments in plastics allow the production of mechanically robust “corrosion specimens”. In producing blood vessel configurations, the surrounding soft tissues are usually corroded away with enzymes or acids.

2004

BODY WORLDS exhibition will be shown for the first time at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. With further exhibitions in renowned science centres, BODY WORLDS exhibitions inspire visitors throughout North America.

2008

New developments allow for plastinated body slices to be coloured as needed. Colouration allows for distinctions between the various body tissues such as tight connective tissue and musculature or skin.

2010

Plastination enters new dimensions with the plastination of the first large animal, “Samba.” The completion of the world’s first plastinated elephant is the starting point for the BODY WORLDS: ANIMAL INSIDE OUT exhibition.

2013

Dr Gunther von Hagens is recognised by the ASTC (International Association of Science and Technology Centers) for his life's work and his outstanding contribution to the to the public understanding of science.

2017

The BODY WORLDS exhibition celebrates its 20th anniversary.