'Body Worlds': The Human Form Revealed

Unique 'Plastination' Process Preserves Cadavers for Display

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A cadaver split into two is the centerpiece of the 'Body Worlds' exhibit at the California Scie

A cadaver split into two is the centerpiece of the Body Worlds exhibit at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Calif. Julie Yen, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie Yen, NPR
Pregnant woman

The exhibit's most controversial display shows the body of a woman who died eight months pregnant, with her unborn fetus exposed. Julie Yen, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie Yen, NPR
Child stares at exhibit of human cadaver posed as a basketball player at the California Science Muse

Child stares at exhibit of human cadaver posed as a basketball player at the California Science Museum in Los Angeles. Julie Yen, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie Yen, NPR

Body Worlds, a new exhibit at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Calif., is packing in crowds of the curious. The exhibit features human bodies preserved through a new process called "plastination," where technicians remove the water from organs or whole bodies and replace it with silicon.

The corpses are then cut open — and in some cases, sliced into sections — to reveal the inner workings of the human body. The exhibit's curators have arranged some of the cadavers in poses to simulate real-life activities. A chess player hunches over a chessboard, his brain and spinal cord exposed. A muscular cadaver palms a basketball in mid-dribble.

Some of the exhibits are intended to be a bit shocking: a lung blackened from years of smoking, a liver pickled from years of drinking, a brain shriveled from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Critics say the exhibit is too scary for young visitors, and others question whether it should be allowed at all. The originator of the exhibit, German physician Gunther Von Hagens, counters that he's providing a public service. A survey found that, in Europe, more than half of those who saw the exhibit said that they would adopt healthier habits.

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