The method of plastination

In 1977, Dr Gunther von Hagens decided to make Plastination the focus of his life. A series of simple experiments revealed that it would indeed be possible to preserve specimens by hardening them from the inside out, instead of embedding them in polymer blocks. The result would become a revolutionary approach to teaching anatomy and an unprecedented way to show every man, woman and child just what their bodies look like on the inside.

Plastination makes it possible to create completely new types of specimens. When the infused polymers harden, for instance, muscles that would ordinarily be slack can provide support, allowing the body to be displayed in a variety of poses. It is even possible to take a body that has been dissected into components of interest and stretch it in all directions, thereby creating gaps that allow for informative glimpses into the body and reveal structural relationships that would otherwise remain hidden.

Plastinates are able to convey far more than man-made, three-dimensional models, simply because they have come into being via the natural, individual growth of human bodies. Sometimes plastinates even communicate more than untreated anatomical specimens. Transparent slices of tissue, for example, allow observers to trace the course of even the minutest nerves into the depths of the body. When the physical/chemical process is performed properly, even small, microscopic bundles of cells retain their original form. The result is a visually arresting plastinate – the ideal method for displaying a preserved body in a way that sheds light on the functions of its structures.

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.

2. Removal of Body Fat and Water

In the first step, the body water and soluble fats are dissolved from the body by placing it into a solvent bath (e.g., an acetone bath).

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 vacuum chamber. The vacuum removes the acetone from the specimen and helps the polymer to penetrate every last cell.

4. Positioning

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.

5. Curing (Hardening)

In the final step, the specimen is hardened. Depending on the polymer used, this is done with gas, light, or heat. Dissection and Plastination of an entire body requires about 1,500 working hours and normally takes about one year to complete.