University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Body Worlds and the Cycle of Life
The Body Worlds exhibit was an amazing tour of more than 200 incredible plastinates; real human specimens that have been preserved. Dr. von Hagen’s is the man behind his incredible invention called plastination; embalming and anatomical dissection, connective tissue removal, body fat and water removal, forced impregnation with a polymer solution then placed in a vacuum chamber removing the acetone bringing it down to a cellular level, and then lastly the specimen hardens and is then positioned as desired. This phenomenal exhibit has given many people the opportunity to see the entire internal structure of the human body.
The written explanations next to each display were very informative; giving a better understanding on how the choices we make throughout our life can truly affect us as we continue our journey through the aging process. According to Dr. von Hagen, it takes approximately 1,500 hours (1-2 years) of dedication for each sculpture, along with 350 others helping him throughout the process. All 20 of the bodies that have been donated remain anonymous; no details about them or their cause of death were shared out of respect for each of the donors.
This exhibit was an amazing journey showing us how the human body changes through time; from conception and as one age’s. The exhibit starts with the zygote; a single cell formed from the father’s sperm, the mother’s egg, and the human genome; the blueprints of all living human beings. Human embryos and fetuses were on display showing each stage of cell division from conception through pre-natal development. The minute were born, our physical efficiency increases reaching its peak in our mid-twenties, then slowly starts to decline throughout the rest of our lives.
There were normal clean lungs of a non-smoker on display next to black lungs of a smoker, which were half the size compared to the clean lung. The written explanation stated that each year you smoke about a cup size full of tar accumulates inside of your lungs. There were sectional displays of the thoracic cavity showing the gas exchange that occurs within the alveoli of our lungs. There were healthy hearts on display along with hearts that had pacemakers. There was a healthy liver next to a liver that has been damaged by excessive amounts of alcohol; showing visual cirrhosis.
There were several displays of the human brain. One of the displays showed a brain at optimal health compared to a brain that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I found it interesting that the human brain stops growing when you are 15 years old and individuals under 30 years of age take in twice as much oxygen compared to individuals 80 years of age or older. There was a 540lb sculpture, displaying the dangerous effects of obesity compared to a healthy 140lb individual. There were also sectional displays showing us a view of the abdominal wall and how every organ is affected by this extra unnecessary fat.
You are what you eat! Sugar, in the form of simple, refined carbohydrates, is considered one of the body’s major “agers”. Excess sugar in the diet alters the structure of the protein molecule, preventing it from functioning properly and leading to the stiffening of the body’s tissues. High blood pressure can shorten one’s life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, and 9 out of 10 people are at risk of developing hypertension after age 50. We all need energy to function properly, but as we age our body doesn’t require as much energy like it did when we were younger.
Our bones are flexible at a young age and adolescents. In adulthood, our body increases in strength and stamina, but loses its flexibility. The Artist’s Gaze was a display on sight and vision at birth and later in life. It was focused on the artist’s Claude Monet who suffered from cataracts, and Edgar Degas who suffered from retinal eye disease. A condition called Presbyopia; a progressively diminished ability to focus on near objects, is a normal part of aging and develops when the lens of the eye gradually loses it elasticity.
An infant can see things close up with no problem, while a 30 year old would have to hold to object about 6 inches away. At birth, you have about 300 bones, as you grow older, small joints join together resulting in approximately 206 bones. At the age of 52 woman generally experience menopause; end of life’s fertile phase. As men age their testosterone levels decline, but unlike woman, they can reproduce throughout their later years. I learned that the world’s oldest people live in Okinawa, Japan and Ovadda, Sardinia.
They shared some of their lifestyle practices, which I think we could all benefit from if we were to take their healthy habits and make them our own. Near the end of the exhibit, I really enjoyed reading one of the posters that stated, “Age is an issue of mind over matter, if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter”. Body World’s and The Cycle of Life was an incredible experience and has defiantly changed my way of thinking when it comes to the meaning of life and death. It has also given me a better understanding of our bodies and a completely different perspective on how important it is to appreciate life and take better care of myself!