In its final week, Science Museum extends hours of Body Worlds exhibit

If you’ve not been to the world-famous Body Worlds exhibit yet, the Science Museum will extend its hours this Friday and Saturday to give you one last chance to see it before it leaves.

Update #1 – September 18th, 1:35 PM

Due to popularity, the Science Museum of Virginia will extend the hours for the Body Worlds & the Brain exhibit later this week. The Museum will open at 9:30 AM and close at midnight this Friday and Saturday, September 21st and 22nd, respectively. The last time slot during both evenings will be 10:45 PM.

The famous exhibit will conclude its four-month run in RVA on Sunday, September 23rd during regular Museum operating hours: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM.

The Science Museum encourages the public to make advanced reservations by calling 804.864.1400 or visiting www.smv.org. Body Worlds tickets are $15, with $1 discounts for ages 4-12 and 60+. Tickets for Museum members are $7.50.

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Most avoid advertising the fact that they have dead bodies hidden in the basement. If you’re the Science Museum of Virginia, on the other hand, you want the entire Richmond region to see them.

Over 150 authentic human specimens—organs and entire bodies—are now on display in the Science Museum of Virginia as it opens Dr. Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds & the Brain exhibit.

“People are already talking about coming back,” said Richard Conti, who holds the cheeky title of Chief Wonder Officer at the museum and who helped bring the new exhibit to Richmond. He said that it’s only been in “the last couple of years” that Richmond could even host the famed exhibit.

Body Worlds premiered in 1995, and Conti said that it “sent a ripple through the science museum community.” To maximize audience attendance (the traveling exhibit has accumulated over 34 million attendees), for the last decade the exhibit was confined to larger cities. Conti said that organizers of Body Worlds have since “made a smaller variance” of the exhibit to accommodate smaller venues and cities across the world. Not everyone is excited to attend.

“Quite a number of people feel hesitant,” said Dr. Angelina Whalley, wife of anatomist Dr. von Hagens, as well as designer and business manager for the Body Worlds exhibits. While some are shocked or dismayed by the organs and bodies on display, Dr. Whalley said that Body Worlds is a “celebration of the human body and a meditation on ourselves.” It is also an exhibit that has been embroiled in controversy.

Gunther von Hagens, who is also known as “Dr. Death” throughout Europe, has been criticized for selling human remains online for up to $100,000. In November 2002, Dr. von Hagens performed a public autopsy on Britain’s Channel 4 network. It was the first public autopsy in the United Kingdom since the 1830’s.

In January 2004, he returned seven corpses to China after acknowledging that the corpses might have been executed prisoners. Authorities in at least four countries have investigated the alleged claim that Dr. von Hagens has used grave robbers, prison wardens, and bribed medical examiners to supply cadavers for the “plastination” process that he invented. None of the allegations have been supported. In late 2010, Dr. von Hagen announced that he has Parkinson’s Disease, and has expressed his wishes to have his body exhibited much like those in his famous exhibit.

In a paper titled “Anatomy and Plastination,” Dr. von Hagens said that his plastination process, which he developed in the early 1990’s, “creates beautiful specimens as a sensuous experience that are frozen at a point between death and decay.”

Plastination is a lengthy process that removes all traces of water from a corpse, and fills the cadaver with various plastic materials to preserve individual organs and entire bodies. Dr. Whalley, who also serves as director for the Institute of Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany, said that a single full-body, plastinated corpse takes approximately 1600 working hours to create, or one full year.

The process begins with the dissection of a cadaver (“All of our specimens originate in a body donation program,” she maintained). The body then goes through a process in which water is drawn out by submerging the body in acetone, a process that takes several weeks, even months, to complete. Then the body is submerged into a bath of liquid polymer that is confined in a vacuum and boiled. As the acetone evaporates, it draws-in the liquid polymer, essentially filling the body with plastic.

Before the bodies are treated with a gas that hardens the polymer, they are placed in a unique position. On display at the current Science Museum exhibit is a woman in a yoga pose, a man swinging a baseball bat, and a skateboarder performing a hand plant, among others.

During a May 2009 exhibit in Berlin, Dr. von Hagens posed a male and female body mid-coitus. One German official called the spectacle “over the top and should not be shown.” The current Science Museum of Virginia exhibit does not feature human mating (the museum says the exhibit is appropriate for children eight and up).

Dr. Whalley said that team of seven took two days to install the current exhibit, one of six currently staged throughout over the world. She hopes that the exhibit inspires people to become body-conscious. She didn’t mean vanity, such as one’s waistline, but to appreciate the many nuances and complexities of the human body. Dr. Whalley said that the exhibit will touch visitors “emotionally” as well as show them the “beauty of bodily material.”

“Body Worlds & the Brain” will be at the Science Museum of Virginia from May 25th to September 23rd. The exhibit is recommended for adults and children 8 and older. Tickets are available by calling 804.864.1400 or by visiting www.smv.org. Body Worlds tickets are $14 for ages 4-12 and 60+ and $15 for ages 13-59. Tickets for members are $7.50. Tickets for Body Worlds and Museum exhibits are $19 for ages 4-12 and 60+ and $20 for ages 13-59. Audio tours may be purchased for an additional fee at the gallery entrance.

photos courtesy of Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds & the Brain

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

1 comment on In its final week, Science Museum extends hours of Body Worlds exhibit

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