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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Bodies: the Exhibition Astounds New Yorkers

    An exhibition featuring human bodies is currently drawing crowds to the South Street Seaport in New York City.’ Some of the displays included resurrection of the human anatomical structure through arteries and veins, dissection of a lung that suffered from emphysema, conjoined twins, and an embryo through weeks of development.

    There were a total of about 20 bodies and more than 250 human organs and partial-body specimens and fetuses behind a glass. It is set up so that one starts at the skeletal system, and then moves onto deeper layers, such as the muscular, nervous, circulatory, digestive, respiratory, urinary, and reproductive systems.

    Some of the specimens are arranged so that they are performing activities, including playing basketball or conducting an orchestra. Along the way are other displays showing a human intestine stretched out, the polluted lung of a smoker, and all of the arteries and veins without the body itself.

    There is also a section devoted to fetal development. The fetuses displayed here died due to miscarriages. A sign explains that the deceased fetuses, which range from 18 days to 26 weeks, died due pregnancy complications, not abortions. They display disorders, such as anencephaly, spina bifida and visceral hernia.

    ‘The bodies in question are unclaimed or unidentified individuals from China. As such, neither the deceased nor their families consented to the use of the corpses in the exhibit,’ said Dr. Roy Glover, the Medical Director of the Exhibition, in a ‘National Geographic’ report. Glover is also a Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

    The bodies were obtained through the Dalian Medical University Plastination Laboratories in the People’s Republic of China.

    Glover added that ‘the corpses and body parts used ‘hellip; were ‘legally obtained’ from various medical schools and universities in China.’

    The exhibition, which visits several different states annually, began in 2004 and has drawn a crowd of more than 2 million. It preserves the bodies through a unique polymer preservation process. While organs can take a week to prepare, a full body can take up to a year.

    According to the Exhibit Information Center, ‘[a] human specimen is first preserved according to standard mortuary science’hellip;[when] dissected, the specimen is immersed in acetone, which eliminates all body water. The specimen is then placed in a large bath of silicone, or polymer, and sealed in a vacuum chamber. Under vacuum, acetone leaves the body in the form of gas and the polymer replaces it, entering each cell and body tissue. A catalyst is then applied to the specimen, hardening it and completing the process.’

    It added that ‘the brain is dehydrated in cold acetone to maintain its original size and shape.’

    The preservation process has been successful so far. The last specimens were made in the 1970s and are still in existence. All specimens are preserved to last indefinitely.

    All bodies in the exhibit died from natural causes. However, several organs display medically-related problems. A healthy lung is placed next to the one that has suffered from emphysema to emphasize the difference.

    A large glass bin requested smoking packs from visitors to illustrate the negative effects of smoking. Other bodies displayed what happens to the body when it suffers from unnatural causes, including obesity, breast cancer, colon cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, ectopic pregnancy, arthritis, osteoporosis, smoking and dietary excess.

    Glover emphasized the importance of the exhibition when he stated on the website that ‘[s]eeing promotes understanding, and understanding promotes the most practical kind of body education possible. The body doesn’t lie!’

    The organizers have opened the exhibition to children of all ages. Audio tour guides and five age-specific teacher’s guides are available, ranging from elementary to post-graduate levels.

    The Exhibition is organized by Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions, Inc. The organizers include Gunther von Hagens, Gerhard Perner and Genlife Biomedical.

    According to a visitor comment, ‘this exhibit has shown me more anatomy than in two years of studying book after book.’

    ‘My husband smokes and when he saw the lungs the first thing he said to me was ‘I’m going to quit,” wrote another visitor.

    The exhibition also maintains a website,, where one can find even more intensive information and classroom activities related to the human body.

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