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Photos: Preview of the Body Worlds: The Anatomy of Happiness at the Science Museum of Virginia

The new version of popular BODY WORLDS touring exhibition is making its North American museum debut at the Science Museum of Virginia starting on Saturday.




I fully admit to being fascinated by the life-sized models so didn’t get many photos of the very cool organs and other aspects of the exhibit. This photo preview shows a small fraction of the exhibit that is both educational and a little unsettling. There is an excellent description of the exhibit after the photos.

Science Museum of Virginia on Body Worlds: The Anatomy of Happiness

What makes you happy? Is it chocolate? Is it long walks on the beach? Is it skateboarding? While the specific activity that makes an individual happy might vary, the impact of happiness of the human mind and body is universal. How do we know this? The answers lie within “BODY WORLDS: The Anatomy of Happiness,” opening at the Science Museum of Virginia this weekend.

A powerful emotional phenomenon, happiness influences our movements, perceptions, sensations, mood and more. Through dozens of human specimens called plastinates featured in the touring exhibition, guests can explore how anatomy is involved in happiness and how positive or negative emotions can affect health. They will understand what happiness is and the science behind it by discovering the complexity, resilience and vulnerability of what lies beneath the skin.

“Nothing compares to getting an up-close, three-dimensional view of the inner workings of complex biological systems,” said Rose Basom, the Science Museum’s David and Jane Cohn Scientist. “The specimens are stunning, dramatic and beautiful, a celebration of life in both form and function. ‘BODY WORLDS’ is an unforgettable experience, a journey of discovery that is sure to spark curiosity and generate discussion for all who see it.”

Invented by scientist and anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens in 1977, plastination is a unique method of halting decomposition to preserve anatomical specimens for scientific and medical education. The process replaces bodily fluids and fat with plastics through vacuum-forced impregnation. After the bodies are placed into lifelike poses, they are hardened with gas, heat or light. The body’s cells remain in their original state, down to the microscopic structures, so the preserved specimen appears identical to how it was inside the body.

“BODY WORLDS” exhibitions contain real human specimens, including whole-body plastinates, individual organs, biological systems and transparent body slices. The plastinated specimens are dissected and without skin so guests can see the bones, muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels and organs. Specimens are dry, odorless and virtually everlasting.

Dissection and plastination of an entire human body requires about 1,500 working hours and normally takes about one year to complete. “BODY WORLDS: The Anatomy of Happiness” contains more than a dozen full-body specimens, including a skateboarder, pair of figure skaters, guitar player and archer. All bodies featured in the exhibition were willingly donated to the Institute for Plastination for this purpose.

BODY WORLDS: The Anatomy of Happiness” builds on what people can see in classrooms, photos and charts in doctor’s offices. Guests will gain new understanding of the amazing beauty of the human body and appreciation for how hard it works to execute all its functions. They will see how our bodies nourish, regulate and maintain life.

Dr. Angelina Whalley, curator of BODY WORLDS, developed the exhibition because she believes knowledge about what the human body looks like and how it functions should be available to everyone. When people understand how to make choices that have a positive impact on their body, they will be more likely to choose a healthy lifestyle.

Since the first BODY WORLDS exhibition was displayed in Japan in 1995, different versions have toured the globe. The Science Museum has hosted two “BODY WORLDS” exhibitions before: “BODY WORLDS & The Brain” in 2012 and “BODY WORLDS: Animal Inside Out” in 2018. This is the first time “The Anatomy of Happiness” has been hosted by a North American museum.

“The exhibition is a great example of a shared social experience,” Basom added. “We each inhabit a unique body, but at the same time, function similarly within. It’s an opportunity to celebrate how magnificent bodies are, and develop an appreciation for all they do. By letting guests dive deeper, we can activate their learning, providing more context to the bodies they live, work and play in every single day.”

“BODY WORLDS: The Anatomy of Happiness” is on display at the Science Museum May 25 through Labor Day. In addition to hosting the touring exhibition, the Science Museum is offering a variety of complementary programming throughout the building this summer. Guests can watch live eye and heart dissection demos; explore the connection between bacteria, gut health and happiness; hear about cancer screening improvements at the June 6 Sunrise Science; get the scoop on poop during demos explaining the digestive process; create maker-inspired projects that promote happiness in “The Forge;” and more.

“BODY WORLDS” is available through a combination ticket that includes access to the Science Museum’s regular exhibitions, labs and demos. Admission is $22.50 for adults; $19.50 for youth (ages 6-12) and seniors (ages 60 and older); and $15 for preschool-aged children (ages 3-5).

Discounts are available for teachers, military personnel and through the Museums for All program. Discounted tickets must be purchased in person at Guest Services. Science Museum members receive unlimited free admission to the “BODY WORLDS” touring exhibition.

From May 31 through August 30, the Science Museum will offer extended hours each Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. to give guests the chance to see the specimens at the reduced, exhibition-only price of $10. All other Science Museum exhibitions and labs will be closed during this time.

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.