Gunther von Hagens has literally and figuratively turned the science of anatomy inside out. Prior to the creation of the plastination process by the German doctor and anatomist, the public primarily saw the human body encased in plastic.

But in 1977, von Hagens invented plastination, a nearly year-long process that essentially injects plastic into cadavers to preserve them and allow for an up close and personal examination. The perfection of this process led to the Body Worlds exhibit in 1995, and since that time the traveling anatomy lesson has been seen by nearly 25 million people in 35 cities around the world.

“Body Worlds 3 and the Story of the Heart” is now at the California Science Center for a limited engagement March 16-23, and daily beginning June 16.

The show, which features more than 200 authentic human specimens (including organs and translucent body slices), is an intersection of science and art. Entering the slightly darkened exhibit room, one of the first things heard is the dramatic thumping of a heart. As visitors wander the floor, they will see the posed plastinate figures and read interesting facts such as–goose bumps are the result of the skin trying to retain warmth, or that Olympic cyclist Lance Armstrong was born with an enlarged heart that is now 30 percent bigger than the average human being; or the fact that the network of arteries traversing through the adult human body is about 60,000 miles long and would wrap around earth more than twice if laid out end to end.

There is also the explanation of how people can scientifically “die of a broken heart.”
Then there are the examples of diseased organs, particularly the smoker’s lung that is a blackened mess, which von Hagens said has convinced many a child to never begin smoking. And that was part of his intent with this particular exhibit.

The message the scientist and his wife, Dr. Angelina Whalley, the exhibit’s creative and conceptual designer, want visitors to take away is that “it is worthwhile to live a healthy life; to refrain from using drugs and smoking and to watch your weight because the body really is a treasure.”

And because these are actually people’s bodies that were donated to his Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany, von Hagens said he feels “a higher sense of responsibility when I am working to always do and be the best.”

The New York University visiting professor of dentistry said what prompted him to make the Body Worlds exhibit a health-oriented message, stems from his own near-death experience.

“When I was five, I had a near fatal injury . . . the doctors said I would not make it, I would die,” explained the scientist who spent nearly half a year in the hospital recuperating. That experience fed his desire to become a doctor.

In addition to the examples of the toll smoking takes on human organs, the multimedia exhibit looks at the realities of migraine headaches; explores a cancerous lung; and shows what a stroke looks like in brain slices.

There are also films of cells dividing and literary quotes interspersed that explore the human qualities and emotions of the heart.

Spread out across two floors the Science Center “Body Worlds 3” is an exhibit in which every member of the family may find something to interest them.

The Science Center is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the Body Worlds exhibit will be open extended weekend hours March 16-23. The cost of admission to the exhibit is $18.95 for adults, $16.95 for seniors, and students 18 and older with identification, and $12.95 for youth ages 3 to 17. Group discounts are available for 15 or more. Call (213) 744-2019.

The Science Center is located in Exposition Park, 700 State Drive, Los Angeles, and the phone number is (323) SCIENCE or you can visit www.californiasciencecenter.org.