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Posted at 4:27 PM ET, 04/17/2007

Kind of Gross . . . But Definitely Informative

By Julia Beizer

"Bodies . . . The Exhibition," a recently opened science exhibit featuring the plasticized remains of humans, is an exercise in edutainment. The dark, moody lighting is supposed to remind you that you're in on something Very Cool.

I can't say that I personally felt that way while walking through the exhibit preview last Thursday night, but hey, I get squeamish at the sound of cracking knuckles. If little things like dissected, plasticized humans don't gross you out, the exhibit is actually pretty informative.

The scientists behind the exhibit have used a complicated process called polymer preservation to turn the remains of actual humans (who may or may not have been interested in lending their bodies to science) into skinless teaching mannequins that show us how the body functions and how it reacts to outside stimuli. That's where the exhibit is at its best. The smoker's lung on display shouts out the dangers of cigarettes louder than any surgeon general's warning.

At times, the exhibit is almost pretty. In the pulmonary section, I felt like I was in an aquarium when examining a tree-like display of the blood vessels in lungs. For a moment, the lungs didn't look like creepy body parts, but instead like the complex organisms that they are.

The exhibit is pricey -- $26.50 for adults and that fee doesn't include the use of the helpful audio guide. It'll be in Rosslyn for a six-month run, and if your stomach can handle it, you just might learn something. For a preview of the show, check out our photo gallery. is also hosting a live discussion with the scientist behind the exhibit at noon on Wednesday, April 18.


By Julia Beizer  | April 17, 2007; 4:27 PM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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It may be informative but there is a price in addition to the admission fee. A little research shows that the bodies are supposedly unclaimed and were supplied by the Chinese police. It is claimed that the deceased died of natural causes and that they were not executed prisoners. They may be the bodies of prisoners, even political prisoners, and are certainly the bodies of the poor and the disenfranchised. The deceased did not give permission for the use of their bodies in this traveling side show. Even if the deceased had given permission, their use here comes at the sacrifice of human dignity. The exhibit would have been just as informative if the bodies which are on display were completely plastic (they are about 70 percent plastic). So the advantage of using real bodies is...that they help with ticket sales. The use of our bodies for this purpose lessens the value of each our lives, and the resulting cost to the human spirit is a very high price to pay, a price that I think is unreasonable. For more information check out my website at

Posted by: Aaron Ginsburg | April 18, 2007 5:59 AM | Report abuse

Aaron: I realize everyone has their own beliefs about the handling of a human body that no longer has life flowing through it however, how it "lessens the value of each of our lives " I cannot discern. I think you've definitely taken the purpose of this exhibit and ran way too far with it. Regardless of how the bodies were obtained (a completely different topic), the lives they once held were over when the exhibit was built. How can we lessen the value of a life that is already over? By having the unusual glimpse into the intricacies of the human body, we are able to gain a greater ingsight and foster a deeper respect for just how valuable and priceless it truly is.

Posted by: mcsquared | April 18, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone know if there is student pricing or student passes?

Posted by: AU Student | April 18, 2007 7:01 PM | Report abuse

There are no student tickets, AU. I'd check with your university, though. Someone who organizes campus events may be able to broker a group discount.

Posted by: Julia | April 19, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I thought it was very informative and interesting. Expensive, yes, but if you can get past that, I learned a lot. I saw a very unique display of the body and, whether or not the people gave their bodies for this purpose, there were several signs around noting the respect and dignity given to them, and requested, in the display. I thought it was cool how they seperated the muscles from the skeleton and the blood vessels. You can look as closely as you want and I will likely not have that opportunity again in my life. And at $26.50, I don't have to!

Posted by: lclcl333 | April 19, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Yes, of course this is interesting and educational. However, I agree with Mr. Ginsberg. People disected for public display in this exhibit quite possibly didn't consent. For a society that supposedly values proper burial enough to spend tens of thousands per person on processing, ceremony, and plots, the disregard shown in knowingly displaying a corpse for public infotainment approaches the callousness of a public hanging. The possible involvement of unconsenting human's deaths for profit by a publicly traded company is sickening. Stealing bodies of the dead is a revolting sort of theft. Why not allow willing donations specifically for this purpose? People donate bodies in America all the time...or was it just cheaper to get chinese convicts? I would be willing and interesting in going if I knew the "exhibits" consented.

Posted by: concerned | April 27, 2007 8:58 AM | Report abuse

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