Nfld. & Labrador

Why dead bodies from Germany are going on display in St. John's

Get a sneak peek at a remarkable collection of human specimens, which Memorial University will soon showcase for the public.

In addition to helping students learn, Dr. Shakti Chandra is putting her specimens on public view

Memorial University anatomist Dr. Shakti Chandra estimates that there are 12 human bodies' worth of dead specimens on display for me in a room located in the older part of Memorial University's Faculty of Medicine.

The specimens include whole bodies, some of which are cut open with skin and nerves peeled back, others sliced exactly down the middle so that they are cut in half at the bellybutton.

There are whole human brains, arms that have been sawed off at the elbow, organ packages and the femur of someone who once had a hip replacement.

The tips of two femurs. One naturally, the other having undergone a hip replacement. (CBC)

That's just to name a few.

Chandra, who was born in New Delhi, has been working with the faculty for 41 years.

She acquired these specimens after completing a sabbatical in Guben, Germany.

In May 2011, Chandra travelled there to work with Dr. Gunther von Hagens in his Plastinarium, a medical laboratory named after the body preservation technique — plastination — that von Hagens created.

What is plastination?

During plastination, resin replaces body fluids, and gas and high heat are used to help preserve dead body parts for the living to see.

In this case, the bodies and body parts are being used to teach medical students. Occasionally, Chandra will take some of the smaller specimens to grade schools across the province.

Chandra describes plastination as a process that will help preserve these specimens "almost forever."

Not only is von Hagens credited with mastering the plastination technique, and allowing Chandra to take the specimens she worked directly on back to this province — he is also the creator of the International Body Worlds exhibit, a showcase of hundreds of plastinated body specimens that millions have seen at venues around the world.

See the specimens yourself

Now, Chandra is taking her specimens and putting them on display in St. John's for 'Body Works,' a smaller yet equally as striking exhibit modeled after the German colleague who helped to make it all possible.

As Chandra says, the plastinated body parts she's carried back to St. John's will last "almost forever." However, Chandra's 40-plus-year career at Memorial University will not last forever. That's why she has a created a series of educational videos, which include her plastinated specimens, so that they keep living on the internet long after she is gone. (That is of course, if she doesn't opt to become plastinated herself.)

In: A new series

This has been the first instalment of In, a series that aims to take you inside places we don't often see. If you have a place, event or topic that you think Kenny Sharpe should explore you can email him or follow him on Twitter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kenny Sharpe

Reporter

Kenny Sharpe is currently reporting in Europe as part of the 2022 Arthur F. Burns Fellowship for Foreign Correspondents. Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, he reports on daily news with a focus on the environment, mental health and politics.

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