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Body wonderful

Chulalongkorn University takes anatomy to another level with the opening of Southeast Asia's first Museum of the Human Body

Holland has its Corpus, an interactive journey through the human body that takes visitors in through a knee and guides them through every bodily function, exiting through the brain and then offering them a choice of healthy food and drinks at its cafe.

Last Wednesday, Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University officially opened its Museum of the Human Body, the first such facility in Southeast Asia. Inspired by the German exhibition "Body Worlds", which saw preserved human bodies and body parts tour the globe, the museum showcases 131 preserved corpses and organs worth more than Bt100 million and is designed primarily as a learning centre for medical students.

Unlike Corpus, the museum is not aiming to be an edutainment centre complete with cafe and souvenir shop, though it is opening its doors to the public one afternoon a week.

All the anatomical specimens have been donated through the Medical Doctor Soft House Company, which has been holding a human touring exhibition around Japan for the past several years. The university invested Bt1.2 million in transforming two rooms in its Faculty of Dentistry into a museum, building special frames and glass cases to house their guests.

"The human body is wonderfully complex. This museum will not only help you understand how it functions but also what you should do to keep in healthy," says Katsumi Kitamura, president of Medical Doctor Soft House, adding that the specimens were willed to the company by Chinese individuals who declared during their lifetime that they wished to make their bodies available after death for study and research.

Located on the ninth floor of Dent 16 Building, the exhibition is divided into seven categories: Whole Body, Internal Organs, Body Parts, Muscle, Sliced Body Parts, Blood Vessels and Unborn Baby. Thanks to an innovative preservation technology called plastination, which replaces body fluids with polymer, the bodies could easily pass for eerily accurate sculptures.

The specimen is first immersed in acetone to dehydrate it and prevent decomposition of the tissues, then dipped in liquid silicone in a vacuum chamber, where the acetone becomes gaseous and is replaced with polymer. The silicone polymer hardens and the result is a rubberised specimen, right down to the cellular level.

Associate Professor Sukonta Chareonvit is our guide as we take in the exhibits in room 909, home to body parts and internal organs. The large glass cases at the entrance is dedicated to muscles, tendons and blood vessels, Sukonta quickly takes us through types and forms, based on positions and functions.

The section dedicated to Part of the Whole Body is full of specimens, arranged in an artistic way but still slightly scary to the uninitiated. Full anatomical specimens demonstrate how to nervous, blood circulation and main arteries work while others reveal the male reproductive system, the peripheral nervous system and part of the abdominal viscera. Most of our group are quick to memorise the positions of the liver, stomach, kidney and appendix.

A blackened pair of lungs cause a sharp intake of breath among the smokers, while others turn slightly green at the dissected liver, small intestine and other organs.

Room 910 is home to a giant glass capsule stocking serial slices of the whole body as well as unborn babies at various stages of development in the womb.

Disease is displayed in the opposite corner, with many internal organs cut to reveal textures in unusual shades and shapes. This is where medical students will discover what a cerebral haemorrhage, liver cirrhosis and other severe conditions look like.

Sukonta encourages us to pick up a preserved brain and guess how much it weighs. "Around 1,300 grams," she whispers, as I have a go.

OPEN UP

<< The Museum of the Human Body is located on ninth floor of Dent 16 Building in Faculty of Dentistry, Chulalongkorn University. It's open for public on Wednesdays from 12.30pm to 3.30pm.

<< Admission is free until September 30. Visitor groups can make appointment at |(02) 218 8635 or visit www.Dent.Chula.ac.th.

<< See video at www.Nationmultimedia.com/ video/ or www.Facebook.com/Sunday Leisure The Nation


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