Get Up Close and Personal With the Pulse of the Human Body
As a closeted science geek who publicly professes his obsession with health and fitness, I naturally gravitate towards exhibits like Body Worlds. I’m fascinated by the mechanics of the human body and the dichotomy of its innate resilience and simultaneous frailty.
Since 2004, Dr Gunther Von Hagens has been captivating the curious with his donated cadaver bodies on display for the world to examine. Through a lengthy process he invented called Plastination, Dr Von Hagens has been able to preserve human bodies both in sickness and health in order to explain how our highly sophisticated machine of flesh and bone functions. “Plastination is the process of extracting all bodily fluids and soluble fats from specimens, replacing them through vacuum forced impregnation with reactive resins and elastomers, and then curing them with light, heat, or certain gasses, which give the specimens rigidity and permanence,” (Body Worlds.) It takes a total of 800 hours to prepare a single body for this process and then an additional 4 months to fully preserve it.
Body Worlds returns to the California Science Center with a new exhibit called Pulse. Using the entire body along with translucent samples and organs, Pulse explores the human body’s systems and the vulnerabilities associated with 21st century living. Detailed scientific information about the varying effects common aliments such as stress or obesity have on the locomotive, nervous, respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and reproductive systems are there in the flesh for patrons to interact with and learn from. If you’re curious about what the sugar in a can of soda does to your kidney function over time, or smoking cigarettes does to your lungs and liver, you’ll get to see that and much more. The full bodies of people who lived as athletes, dancers, and yogis—engaging in routine exercise and healthy dieting show a correlating contrast to those specimens plagued by disease and unhealthy lifestyles.
Despite the controversial debate around its ethical and educational merit, there is a significant waiting list of willing donors ready to give their bodies to Dr Von Hagens when they die. In a 2006 interview Von Hagens gave All Things Considered reporter Neda Ulaby, he said, “what I certainly never use for public exhibitions are unclaimed bodies, prisoners, bodies from mental institutions and executed prisoners.” This statement highlights much of the ethical debate surrounding his exhibit, especially as it compares to the practices of his competitor Bodies…The Exhibition, which openly admits to using unclaimed or unauthorized cadavers from China (All Things Considered). Dr Von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibit on the other hand has been thoroughly investigated by an ethics advisory committed commissioned by the California Science Center tasked with substantiating the exhibits ethical legitimacy.
Depending on the showing schedule, I highly recommend seeing The Human Body film at the museums IMAX Theater as an accompanying appetizer or dessert to your Pulse experience. Like the exhibit, the film explores the complex systems of the body from the inside out by using cameras, x-rays, and other highly advanced technology. From birth, through puberty and into adulthood, the viewer learns how the body’s systems reflexively function without any conscious awareness or “help” from us. For example, did you know it takes the use of 300 coordinated muscles to operate a bike or that a baby crawls approximately 60 miles before it walks? See how the body generates heat, cools itself down, digests its food, circulates blood and oxygen, and even how male and female DNA merge inside the womb. Three years in the making, the film is engrossing and informative—the perfect pairing to Body Worlds: Pulse exhibit.