Students witness an artistic approach to human anatomy at Body Worlds

December 9, 2017 — by Julia Miller

Along with labels and descriptions of each piece, students were able to interact with the museum exhibits.

Many teens can never say that they have seen a dead body, but some students had the chance to view dozens of artistically rendered corpses during a recent field trip.

The Anatomy/Physiology class taught by Kristofer Orre embarked on its first field trip ever. On Dec. 1, students in both Orre’s class and Amy Obenour’s Sports Medicine class took a 20-minute trip to downtown San Jose where the exhibit “Body Worlds” was featured at the Tech Museum.

Having debuted in 1995, Body Worlds is a traveling exhibition that has visited more than 115 cities throughout America, Africa, Asia and Europe. The exhibit’s German creators, Dr. Angelina Whalley and Dr. Gunther von Hagens, thought of the idea to convert donated, human specimens to works of art because they wanted audiences to “become aware of the fragility of their bodies and to recognize the anatomical individual beauty inside each of us.”

The exhibit includes both preserved entire bodies and individual organs, organ systems and transparent body slices. To preserve the cadavers, the bodies go through a process called plastination, which begins with pumping preservation solutions through specimens’ arteries. This process kills bacteria and prevents its tissues from decomposing.

Next, the body fat and water of specimens are all removed by a dissolving acetone bath, and then followed by placing them in a vacuum chamber where the acetone vaporizes and kills all remaining cells in a process called forced impregnation. Lastly, the bodies are positioned and manipulated to perform actions such as dancing, singing and playing sports.

Prior to the field trip, Orre and Obenour gave an overview of Body Worlds and its art pieces to their classes, but nothing compares to seeing the cadaver museum in person.

Senior Christina Walb wasn’t sure what to expect before she arrived at the Tech Museum, but described her reaction as “a shock.”

“Mr. Orre prepped us to see [the exhibit], but I’ve never seen a human with no skin on it, let alone a real dead body,” Walb said. “But it was really cool to be able to see how the internal body is structured and to really get a look at all the parts that hold us together.”

Junior Hugo Huang noted the uncomfort involved in seeing dead bodies and admitted there is “nothing Mr. Orre could do or say that could get rid of the shock factor.” But according to Huang, it only took a few minutes to get accustomed to the cadavers.

Both Huang and Walb agreed that the most interesting body was “The Male Ballet Dancer,” which featured a man jumping in mid-air, held up by his spinal cord and brain that are peeled back to the floor.  

Aside from the masterpieces that are the Body Worlds cadavers, students witnessed real-life examples of the human body they have been learning in class since August.

Along with labels and descriptions of each piece, students were able to interact with the museum exhibits. Tablets were distributed to experience an augmented reality feature of Body Worlds, where 3-D digital body parts would appear on the camera screen as if it they were really there. Upon clicking on each structure, more information and pictures would be available for students to read into.

By the end of the exhibit, Walb said she learned “that there is so much more to the human body than what we see in our textbook’s diagrams.”

Body Worlds is scheduled to be at the Tech Museum for the next 10 years, and Walb expressed her hope that this becomes an annual field trip for the class until the exhibit leaves Silicon Valley.

“I really think this is an amazing learning experience for anybody in future [Anatomy/Physiology] classes,” Walb said. “It’s taking what we are taught to a completely new level.”