What is plastination?

A New Approach to Teaching Anatomy

Traditionally, medical students familiarise themselves with the human body through a process of removal. First they remove the skin from the corpse, then they detach muscle after muscle from the limbs, and finally conclude by removing the chest and abdominal walls. After removing the organs, the remainder of the body is – to use their own rather telling term – “dissected down” to the bones and ligaments. According to medical encyclopaedias, anatomy is a teaching discipline within the field of medicine; it is based on the dismemberment of the dead and concerned with the form, composition, and structure of the human body up to and including the most intricate details of its tissues, functions, and prenatal development.

Considered in this light, plastination does not differ from traditional anatomy in any way. As an innovative preservation method, it does, however, make it possible to create completely new types of specimens. When the polymers harden, for instance, muscles that would ordinarily be slack can provide support, allowing the body to be displayed in a variety of unusual poses, either in its entirety or in various stages of anatomical dissection. It is even possible to take a body that has been dissected into components of interest and stretch it in all directions, thereby creating gaps that allow for informative glimpses into the body and reveal structural relationships that would otherwise remain hidden.

Plastination and Education

The invention of plastination is an aesthetically sensitive method of preserving meticulously dissected anatomical specimens and even entire bodies as permanent, life-like materials for anatomical instruction. The body cells and natural surface structures retain their original forms and are identical to their condition prior to preservation, even at a microscopic level. The specimens are dry and odourless, and remain unchanged for a virtually unlimited amount of time, making them truly accessible. These characteristics lend plastinated specimens inestimable value both for training prospective doctors and for educating non-professionals in the field of medicine.

When laypersons view a plastinated human body or organ for the first time, their emotional response can be quite powerful. However, if they do not immediately recoil in horror and can regain their composure after facing this existential experience, they are often gripped with a deeply moving fascination for what has been fixed in this novel way on the border between death and decomposition.

Anatomical museums generally show nothing more than bleached out specimens of the human body kept in small jars. Specimens such as these are not suitable for educating the public on the normal functions and disorders of the human organism. Non-professionals rarely have the opportunity to see the material used for research and teaching – which includes malformed foetuses, organs, and tissue that have been damaged in every conceivable manner.

The Plastination Process


Donating Your Body for Plastination by Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany