The Process of Plastination
Human beings have been trying to see inside the body for thousands of years. Our fascination with anatomy goes back to the times of ancient Egypt and likely even before then. Organic decay makes it difficult for us to study human anatomy, and so for centuries, scientists have been searching for better preservation techniques.
Plastination, invented by Dr. Gunther von Hagens in 1977, is a vacuum process whereby the body's water and fat are replaced with reactive plastics that are initially pliable and then harden when cured with light, heat or gas. All tissue structures are retained. Unlike plastic models, plastinated specimens are intricate, real displays of anatomy.
Plastination is a relatively simple process in concept:
- Embalming and Anatomical Dissection: Formalin is used to halt decay of tissue, and the skin, fatty and connective tissues are removed.
- Removal of Body Fat and Water: Using a solvent bath (e.g., acetone bath).
- Forced Infusion: The specimen is immersed in a polymer solution, then placed in a vacuum chamber. The vacuum removes the acetone and helps replace it with the polymer down to a cellular level.
- Positioning: The specimen is then positioned as desired with wires, needles, clamps and foam blocks.
- Curing (Hardening): In the final step, the specimen is hardened with (depending on the polymer used) gas, heat or light.
It takes an average of 1,500 hours to transform a specimen into a full-body plastinate.
Plastinated specimens are dry and odorless and retain their natural structure; in fact, they are identical to their pre-preservation state down to the microscopic level.
"Slice plastination" is a special variation of this preservation technique. Frozen specimens are cut into slices which are then plastinated. Plastinated organs and body slices are a useful teaching aid for cross-sectional anatomy, which is gaining importance in medical communities.
More About Plastination
Visit the Body Worlds site for more information on this remarkable process.
Photo: Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany, www.bodyworlds.com
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