Denver home to new exhibit

Mar 192006
Authors: Mike Donovan

One of the most-pondered questions in life is where one goes when he or she dies. For a small group of people, the answer is the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

On March 10, the museum became home to Body Worlds 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies. The exhibit, which runs until July 23, is home to more than 200 real human body specimens and more than 20 whole bodies. The bodies are posed in various positions including one playing baseball and another who is skiing.

The bodies are preserved using a process called plastination. The technique, invented in 1977 by Dr. G/nter von Hagans, replaces bodily fluids and fat with reactive polymers like rubber or polyester to preserve the bodies.

Dr. von Hagans is the creator of the Body Worlds exhibits, which since 1997 have drawn over 18 million visitors at 22 different museums around the world. Denver marks the first time the exhibit has been in the Rocky Mountain region.

Kendra Westerkamp, communications manager for the exhibit, said a suggestion from a museum worker sparked the museum’s interest in the exhibit.

“A museum employee heard about the exhibit and was interested in bringing it to the area,” Westerkamp said.

The exhibit sold out during its opening weekend, hosting more than 14,000 visitors, and the museum expects around 400,000 visitors during its four-month stay in Denver. Museum officials also expect it to be one of the most visited exhibits in museum history.

The exhibit winds, snake-like, through the Phipps Special Exhibits Gallery on the third floor of the museum. The displays are divided into five main sections with an optional sixth. The main sections are the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the digestive system, and the kidney and urinary systems. The optional and most controversial section is fetal development.

The fetal development section contains embryos and fetuses at various stages of development. The display is also home to the corpse of a pregnant woman who was in her fifth month of pregnancy when she died. None of the fetuses used were aborted, according to von Hagans.

Kamiey Price, sophomore zoology major, traveled to the exhibit on the first Saturday it was open. Price liked seeing anatomy at a different level than what is available at CSU.

“It’s definitely a lot more advanced than looking at dogfish and frogs,” Price said.

Price was also impressed with the amount of detail that went into every body and display.

“Words can’t describe what (von Hagans) did with this exhibit,” Price said.

Humans are not the only members of the animal kingdom on display. Before entering the exhibit, visitors can see the muscles and bone structures of two Bactrian camels, one adult and one child. Inside the exhibit there is a colt with its muscle structure and some internal organs exposed and a baby goat with its body comprised of only arteries giving it a unique bright red figure.

While the main attraction at the exhibit is the whole bodies, it is also home to organs and bones in various states during life. One display holds three sets of lungs; a non-smoker’s lung, a smoker’s lung and a miner’s lung. The non-smoker’s lung is a whitish/yellow color, while the smoker’s lung appears dark and ashy. The miner’s lung is silvery and looks like it has been wrapped in aluminum foil.

The exhibit, which was on display at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto until Feb. 26, arrived in Denver six days before the opening. Westerkamp said it was a quicker turnaround than most special exhibits put on by the museum.

“We had people working 24 hours a day for a week to get this ready,” Westerkamp said.

At the front of the exhibit is a memorial that thanks all of the body donors for their donations. The 6-foot-tall memorial appears in five different languages and simply says “In memory of the body donors.”

The museum is neither advocating nor opposing body donations. For those interested in donating their bodies to science after death, more information can be found at the Body Worlds Web site at

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is located in City Park in Eastern Denver. A ticket to the Body Worlds 2 exhibit is $11 by itself and $20 when included with a ticket for the museum.

Mike Donovan can be reached at

Body Worlds 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Runs now through July 23

Cost: $11 for a ticket to the exhibit/$20 for ticket to the exhibit and the museum

Interested in donating your body to science after death?

For more information check the Body Worlds Web site,

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