By Jason Lea, ERJ Akron Bureau
Akron, Ohio-Gunther von Hagens, 60, inventor of the plastination process and creator of the two Body Worlds exhibits has developed a novel process for preserving human bodies, using silicone rubber or epoxy resin. He is also well-known, or even notorious, in Europe for performing public autopsies in front of an invited audience, some of which have been televised.
Von Hagens' plastination removes bodily fluid and fats and replaces them with acetone, and then replaces the acetone with a polymer.
The result-his Body Worlds and Body Worlds II exhibits-have been touring the world since the first one opened in Japan in 1995. They are currently at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, respectively. They have been to more than 10 countries on three continents.
Von Hagens created plastination in 1977 at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. The following year he founded Biodur Products, based in Heidelberg, which sells polymers, auxiliaries, and other equipment for plastination. In 1993, he also started the Institute of Plastination, also in Heidelberg.
The plastination process isn't difficult in theory. Reactive polymers like silicone rubber, epoxy resins or polyester decay very slowly, so if the body could replace the fats and liquids that bacteria decompose with such polymers, then the body could be maintained indefinitely.
But bodily fluids and reactive polymers are not chemically compatible, so some intermediary steps are necessary, explains von Hagens' Web site.
See more on this process on the Plastics News website www.plasticsnews.com