This educational and scholarly exhibition is made possible by the unique method to preserve the bodies; often referred to as “polymer impregnation” or “plastination,” a process that replaces the body’s water and fat with reactive plastics. Polymer preservation is a relatively new method of preservation whereby the bodily fluids are replaced by liquid and is then hardened to create a solid, durable anatomic specimen that will last indefinitely.
The process leaves even the finest, most delicate tissue structures virtually intact, down to the microscopic level, making the process invaluable for medical study. The organs are actually IDENTICAL to their pre-preservation state. The plastic is initially pliable, enabling the bodies to be placed in many different life-like positions, and then hardens after infusion. The specimens are completely dry and odorless.
The traditional museum specimen goes through a long process of preparation, fixation, and ultimately presentation, without the hazards associated with unpleasant toxic fumes and potentially unsafe and difficult handling procedures. Prior to the invention of polymer impregnation, the only method for preservation of cadavers for medical study was storage in formaldehyde, making the dissection of human bodies cumbersome. The improved attributes of plastinated, or polymer impregnated specimens, are accounted for by the superior qualities of the curable polymers. Because the specimens are dry, odorless and durable, they are an excellent teaching and research tool. Although the technique is still fairly new, it is being used in more than 150 departments of anatomy, pathology, forensic science and biology all over the world. Plastination galleries are offered in exhibits and numerous college medical schools.
Water and lipid tissues are replaced by curable polymers.
Curable polymers used by plastination include silicone, epoxy and polyester- copolymer.
Requires four main steps: The first step of plastination is fixation. This simply means that the body is embalmed, usually in a formaldehyde solution, in order to halt decomposition. After any necessary dissections take place, the specimen is then placed in a bath of acetone. Under freezing conditions, the acetone draws out all the water and replaces it inside the cells. In the third step, the specimen can then be placed in a bath of liquid polymer, such as silicone rubber, polyester or epoxy resin. By creating a vacuum, the acetone is made to boil. As the acetone vaporizes and leaves the cells, it draws the liquid polymer in behind it, leaving a cell filled with liquid plastic. The plastic must then be cured, either with gas, heat, or UV light in order to harden it. A specimen can be anything from a full human body to a small piece of an animal organ, and they are known as either “plastins” or “plastinates”.
Standard Process of Plastination
In summary, this preservation method results in specimens that are not only versatile and easy to handle, but are truly authentic.