Do the 'plasticized' cadavers in German anatomist Gunther von Hagens' "Body Worlds exhibitions take your breath away, or get under your skin? Whatever your feelings, a new museum installation promises an even wilder spectacle. Animal Inside Out, a collaboration between the team behind Body Worlds and London's Natural History Museum, applies Hagens' preservation techniques to animals--with specimens ranging from a tough-looking gorilla to a towering elephant.
The show, which opens April 6, showcases specific aspects of the animals' anatomy. There's a rabbit stripped down to its intricate network of blood vessels and an ostrich with exposed leg muscles that give the bird its powerful stride.
Museum visitors will see evolution in action in the nearly 100 creatures that comprise the show. Dr. Angelina Whalley, exhibition curator from the Institute for Plastination, noted in a written statement that "It is fascinating to see the anatomical similarities between different animal groups, like the muscles and bones of the primate five-digit hand, which we share with a gorilla."
How do they preserve specific parts of the animals? It's a complicated process called plastination, patented in the 1980s by Dr. Hagens. After embalming stops the bodies' decay, body tissues that won't be on display are removed, and the specimen is placed in an acetone bath to remove water and fat. Then, the animal is immersed in a liquid plastic and placed in a vacuum chamber, which forces out the acetone and causes the plastic to replace it. The specimen is then put into position and then hardened with gas, heat or light.
But no matter how complicated the science behind it, the end product is simple theater—there's nothing quite like standing underneath an Asian elephant in the flesh (more or less).