Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Science Exhibit in Portland uses real body parts

Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system

Posted on September 14, 2015 in News
By USM Free Press

Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system
Jared Lank
Exhibits at the Portland Science Center display bodies to educate students on the muscular system

By Samuel Haiden / Contributor

An anatomical exhibit described as a mix of “art, science, and circus freak show” will inspire and educate audiences here in Portland starting Friday, September fourth.

The exhibit features real live human corpses, which have been voluntarily donated to the cause by the deceased- in most cases. These corpses are preserved by a process called plastination, developed by the anatomical artisan himself, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, to display the complexity of the human body, frozen in perfect composure to allow for a deep and pensive look into the clockwork of our very own bodies.

The process imbues organic tissue with silicone, leaving the musculature with a waxy and plastic appearance; but the lack of robustness does no injustice to the incredible complexity of the human anatomy.

In fact, the artificiality of the experience makes it much more approachable. Human legs are referred to as “lower extremity with knee-joint prosthesis.” The blood and gore expected with the display of disembodied human flesh is absent, bearing no resemblance to the zombie-like appearance of traditionally preserved cadavers.

In fact, the plastinated cadavers have become so popular that multiple European universities have purchased them for the study of human anatomy.

Hagens presents his exhibit as a “living anatomy,” in contrast with the traditionally preserved “anatomy of the dead,” and his fascination with the study of living anatomy has been compared to the zealous study of physicians in the Renaissance period.

The nature of Hagens’ pursuits, however, carry with them a series of criticisms. The primary material in the process of making plastinated cadavers, of course, is dead people. The obvious criticism is that the exhibit is discomforting and nauseating: many complaints were made about the exhibit during the first several years of its debut, and it was protested in both Europe and Asia.

These claims are quickly quelled by emphasising the overwhelming educational benefit that the experience provides especially for University students studying medicine.

Some claims, however, are not so easily overruled. Within the first two years of the exhibit’s debut in 2004, many questions were raised about the source of the bodies. These questions are detailed in a Guardian article from the same year indicating that at least two of the 647 corpses stored in his Chinese plastination facility were executed by a shot to the back of the head: implying that the corpses belonged to executed Chinese prisoners. Von Hagens admitted to these claims and returned the bodies to be buried.

Two years later and to the contrary, he states in an NPR article, “What I certainly never use for public exhibitions are unclaimed bodies, prisoners, bodies from mental institutions or executed prisoners.”

The exhibit has become a rampant success: and with good reason. Due to the highly academic nature of the plastinated corpses, the exhibit is very educational. It ran in Boston in 2014 and many members of the USM learning community made the pilgrimage to attend.

David Champlin, an Associate Professor of Biology at USM, found the exhibit to be an excellent learning tool. He was surprised to find that even within a group of science students, some were intrigued and some were repulsed.

“There are a small set of people who find the body fascinating whether it is healthy or ill or large or small,” he said. “Lots of them are heading into careers in health care and will help take care of us when we get sick, injured, or old.”

Ben Stone, a Pre-Med student here at USM agrees, “I saw the exhibit in Boston and really enjoyed it,” said Ben Stone, a junior pre-med major. “I believe there was a piece portraying the development of a fetus, which was really cool.”

When asked about his opinions on the discomfort exhibited by some attendees, he seemed perplexed by the notion that anybody should be grossed out by it, adding, “it’s what’s inside of us.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.