BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life – exhibiting real human bodies in Cape Town

Date:15 January 2013 Tags:, , , ,

The world-renowned anatomical exhibition BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life, brought to you by Blue Ocean Exhibitions, is visiting Africa for the first time at the V&A Waterfront Breakwater Boulevard in Cape Town until 31 January 2013.

The latest edition of the ground-breaking exhibition created by the trailblazing scientist, Dr Gunther von Hagens, BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life shows the complexity, resilience and vulnerability of the human body through anatomical studies of the body in distress, disease and optimal health.

The exhibition includes more than 200 plastinatesspecimens preserved through ‘plastination’, which is a process of preserving human tissue invented in 1977 by Dr von Hagens.

Designed specifically for the purposes of education, the plastinates are an indispensable tool for teaching visitors about the human body. Knowledge about what the human body looks like and how it functions is basic life science information that should be available to everyone.

One of the highlights of the exhibition features a special presentation on the human life cycle and ageing – from prenatal development and infancy, to childhood and adolescence, to youth, adulthood and old age.

It shows the body living through time – at its most radiant, and as it changes, grows, matures, peaks, and finally wanes. It presents ageing in the context of the human life cycle, as a natural progression from the spark of life at conception to living with inspiration into later years.

Visitors to BODY WORLDS in Cape Town will be the first in the world to see the new BODY WORLDS HIV/AIDS display, particularly relevant given the pandemic proportion of the disease in South Africa.

The exhibit gives hope and shows how those with HIV/AIDS can learn to live with the disease and lead more enriched lives as a result; it significantly assists in breaking down the continued stigma around this lifestyle disease.

Anyone who’s interested in learning more about their heart and how extraordinary this vital organ is should visit the BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life exhibition to see in intricate detail just how amazing the heart really is.

This life-changing exhibition resonates with its visitors, regardless of age, education or culture and this additional focus on HIV/AIDS, is bound to strike a chord with many people in South Africa.

Body donation for plastination
All anatomical specimens on display in the BODY WORLDS exhibitions are authentic. They belonged to people who declared during their lifetime that their body should be made available after their deaths for the qualification of physicians and the instruction of lay people. Many donors emphasise that by donating their body, they can be useful to others even after their death. Their selfless donations allow us to gain unique insights into the human body, which have thus far largely been reserved for physicians.

The Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg established its body donation programme in 1982. The unique body donation program was founded in 1982 by Dr von Hagens and has registered 13 310 donors worldwide as of June 2012.

The method of plastination
Plastination is a relatively simple process designed to preserve the body for educational and instructional purposes. Plastination, like many revolutionary inventions, is simple in concept.

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.

The plastination process itself is based on two exchange processes.

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.

Fast facts and figures
* Plastination was invented by Dr von Hagens in 1977 at the University of Heidelberg, Germany and continues to be refined today.

* Plastination is a technique that stops the decomposition of the dead body and produces solid, odourless and durable anatomical specimens for scientific and medical training.

* The production of a human whole-body plastinate requires approximately 1 500 working hours.

* The world’s tallest plastinate is an adult giraffe, measuring 5,10 metres.

* The BODY WORLDS exhibitions were created by Dr von Hagens.

* The ultimate goal of BODY WORLDS is health education.

* Dr Angelina Whalley is the curator of the exhibitions.

* The first exhibition was held in Japan in 1995. Since then BODY WORLDS has been touring worldwide and visited over 70 cities in Europe, Asia and America.

* More than 35 million people have seen BODY WORLDS, over 13 million of which in Europe, 14 million in America, and 8 million in Asia.

* Most recently, the exhibitions have been improved to contain special features:
BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life
BODY WORLDS & The Story of the Heart
BODY WORLDS & The Brain – Our Three Pound Gem

* In 2010, Dr von Hagens and curator Dr Whalley presented the completely new exhibition BODY WORLDS of Animals. A holistic and sculptural anatomical menagerie, the display features the most revered species in the animal kingdom.

For more information and to book tickets to visit the BODY WORLDS & The Cycle of Life exhibition in Cape Town, please visit


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