A Reverence For The Body; An Achievement Of Spirit



There is an air of expectation as I wait for the Arizona Science Center usher to allow a dozen adults and me into anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens' anatomical exhibition Body Worlds 3.

As a former professional massage therapist, I have a keen interest in what the human body looks like up close and personal. I know the subscapularis muscle connect under the scapula bone, but my anatomy books do not give a clear picture.


The Archer is part of the Body Worlds 3 Exhibit now displayed at the Arizona Science Center. The exhibit presents an unusual view of the body.

Illustrations I have seen of the diaphragm, the organ we all use when we inhale and exhale, make it look like a fan. How will it really appear?

As a reporter, I have seen knee implants, but what do they look like in an actual joint?

However, I have a certain amount of trepidation for what I am about to view -- I faint at the sight of blood.

The first case is of bones and while it is interesting to see the minute incus, malleus, and stapes bones of the middle ear, they are not what I came to see.

A body posed in prayer stops me in my tracks, his expression manic, as he prays before a perfect heart.

I begin to wonder. Early scientists were courageous breaking social mores in their quest to discover how man's systems worked.

Indeed, brief history lessons on prominent early anatomists (such as Galen from second century Greece) and quotes of philosophers, such as Fredrick Nietzsche, are placed artfully about the hall.

The human body is revealed in ways laymen have never seen through "plastination," the revolutionary process von Hagen invented and has been perfecting since 1977. His conceptual designer is responsible for presentations that include striking poses of "The Skateboarder," "The Archer" and "The Skin Man." Individual organs and transparent body slices comprise the rest of the exhibit.

A child points to a lung, gray with smoke, and asks her grandfather if her lungs look like that. She seems reassured when he points out the pink healthy lung also on display.

"Plastination is the process of extracting all bodily fluids and soluble fat from specimens, replacing them though vacuum forced impregnation with reactive resins and elastomers, and then curing them with light, heat or certain gases, which give the specimen rigidity and permanence," states exhibit literature.

Many of the exhibits show athletes.

When I was a little girl, my mother taught me how to exercise by lying on my back with my legs in the air, pretending to ride a bicycle.

von Hagens' bicyclist is vertically split into three sections.

"The Hurdler's" face shows determination.

Determination is clearly an emotion that directed von Hagens' life.

He escaped the imminent Russian occupation of Poland with his family in 1945.

In 1965, he entered medical school at the University of Jena, south of Leipzig, in what was then East Germany and began to question communism and socialism. He was imprisoned after a failed escape attempt in 1969.

West Germany purchased his freedom in 1970 and he enrolled at the University of Lubeck and obtained his medical degree.

"The anatomist alone is assigned a specific role -- he is forced in his daily work to reject the taboos and convictions that people have about death and the dead," von Hagens wrote. "I myself am not controversial, but my exhibitions are, because I am asking viewers to transcend their fundamental belief and convictions about our joint and inescapable fate."

So far, more than 200 million people across the globe have viewed von Hagens' exhibitions.

Guest books near the exit show a range of awe, from a 15-year-old who thought it was "one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life" to the career nurse who wrote that she plans to donate her body when she dies so she will still be helping people in the medical profession.

"The aesthetic, accessible display invite contemplation, study and reflection of the power and vulnerability of the human body by everyone," said Chevy Humphrey, president and CEO of the Arizona Science Center.

Tickets for Body Worlds 3 at ASC are available through May 28.

The Arizona Science Center is located at 600 E. Washington St., Phoenix. For more information, call (602) 716-2000 or visit the Web site www.azscience.org.

The Web site for Body Worlds is www.bodyworlds.com

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