BODIES...The Exhibition

BODIES...The Exhibition brings to life, with special attention to detail, the inner workings of the human body through an innovative preservation process called plastination.

The exhibit is organized into a handful of sections that provide a closer look at the skeletal, muscular, respiratory, and reproductive systems of the body.

The exhibit features exquisitely dissected human specimens and real organs. The bodies are delicately preserved so that the viewer can see each nerve, blood vessel, and bone.

According to the Carnegie Science Center’s webpage for the exhibit, the process of plastination was first invented by Dr. Gunther Von Hagens in 1977. This process involves four main steps.

In the first step, the tissues of the body are chemically fixed with formaldehyde to stop the decomposition process. This preservative works by irreversibly cross-linking proteins or DNA.

The body is then dissected and submerged in a bath of liquid acetone, which maintains freezing temperatures so that the acetone can replace the water in each cell.

Next, the specimen is placed in a liquid silicone bath under vacuum pressure. This process allows the acetone to flow out of the tissue, creating a volume deficit of liquid in the body.

A plastic polymer can then permeate the cells as the acetone vaporizes and leaves the cells. The plastic is cured in gas, heat, or UV light to harden it.

In the exhibit’s display of the circulatory system, a technique known as “corrosion casting” is used to prepare each specimen. In this process, blood vessels are first injected with a colored polymer. Upon hardening, the remaining body tissue is chemically removed, leaving the complete circulatory system intact.

In the same way, the body’s complete nervous system is laid out upon a surface by itself.

In addition to lifelike displays of body parts, BODIES...The Exhibition creates a rich learning environment accessible to visitors of all ages. Each dissected piece or body is well-labeled and most often accompanied by commentary on its function or problems that could give rise to health risks.

In addition, many of the walls are lined with trivia. The human body, for instance, contains over 60,000 miles of blood vessels.

Nicole Kinsel is a staff member at the Carnegie Science Center who works at the hands-on table at the end of the exhibit.

Kinsel allowed visitors to hold and examine several organs that had been preserved using the plastination process. The organs on display had a unique texture similar to that of a waxy, hard rubber.

“This brain is very close to the actual weight — the silicon polymer simply replaces the mass of the natural fluids,” Kinsel said. “This exhibit is amazing because things that you see in two dimensions — in textbooks — can now be seen in 3-D!”

Halfway through the exhibit, visitors are able to make a detour through a room that displays the stages of fetal development.

This area showcases development of a human body from the embryo stage up to the birth of a child.

To make the process of skeletal growth visible, bone-binding dye was injected into specimens of the fetuses. This unique method has been implemented in scientific research to aid in the visualization of bone growth.

The dye illuminates the bones of the fingers and toes in a fetus as early as three months after conception.

According to the Carnegie Science Center, over 30,000 visitors have experienced BODIES..The Exhibit in Pittsburgh over the past month.

Throughout the exhibit, visitors are encouraged to make healthy lifestyle choices. The exhibit even provides a tall, clear plastic bin, in which viewers can deposit their packs of cigarettes after viewing a set of a smoker’s tarred lungs.

In addition, the exhibit includes information on modern medicine and various diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It also educates visitors on ways to prevent disease.

In a Carnegie Science Center press release, Ron Baillie, chief program officer at Carnegie Science Center, stated, “This exhibition is a tremendous opportunity to educate the public about healthy lifestyles and living, and we wanted to take advantage of our expertise in educational programming to offer more to Pittsburgh residents than what may have been available at other BODIES exhibitions.”

Baillie said, “We want to combine what visitors learn in the exhibition with real-life experience to help them make lifestyle changes to improve their own health.”

The Carnegie Science Center is also offering lectures on modern medicine as well as health screenings on select Saturdays, the next of which is Jan. 12.

BODIES...The Exhibit was unveiled Oct. 8 at the Carnegie Science Center’s UPMC SportsWorks building. It will be on display through May 4, 2008.

To find out more about BODIES...The Exhibition, visit the website at