Johannesburg - It all starts with a single cell – literally.
Floating inside a short glass cylinder is a three-week-old fertilised embryo.
Next to it is another cylinder showing a baby at six weeks old, then another at eight weeks and so on, depicting foetal development.
But that’s only the beginning of the Body Worlds exhibition at the Sci Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown. The exhibition opened on Wednesday and runs until June 30.
The idea behind the world’s first anatomical exhibition of its kind is to tell the story of how our bodies develop and how the ageing process unfolds.
The slightly jarring aspect is that the bodies on display are actual human bodies.
The bodies have been preserved through plastination, a technique invented by Dr Gunther von Hagens in 1977.
Dr Angelina Whalley, director of the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany, said plastination was “a vacuum process which allows us to impregnate anatomical specimens by polymers like silicone rubber and epoxy”.
The principle of the technology is was “to exchange the tissue against this polymer in a vacuum. So all tissue cells are still in place, just the water is replaced.”
Depending on the kind of specimen, it takes an average of 1 500 working hours to complete just one.
The specimens on display at the exhibition stem from an established body donation programme that has been administered by the institute since 1983.
The programme has over 1 300 donors.
Whalley said the specimens were very valuable in teaching anatomy to university students.
“Only a lot later, in 1995, we came up with the idea of public exhibitions.
“It was such a tremendous success we decided to stay with the idea because it’s so great when visitors to the exhibitions come out having learnt about how their bodies function and what they are made of.
“It has changed so many people’s understanding of themselves,” she continued.
One of the specimens on display is a man’s head cut in half to show its internal structure.
Another is of the “Molting Woman”, which shows the woman’s exposed muscle tissue to illustrate how vulnerable our bodies are without skin.
Whalley admits many people have been “freaked out” by just the idea of looking at human corpses, but she said after they had seen the exhibition, many come out enlightened.
It had already been visited by 36 million people around the world.
“One must also realise that although we use human remains, this exhibition is really about human life,” she said. - The Star