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Museum Exhibit uses Breakthrough Images of the Human Anatomy

An exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. is offering views inside the human body never before seen.

These images from a new book, “The Architecture and Design of Man and Woman”, are not photographs or paintings. They are computer-built visualizations of data imaged from the bodies of a man and woman who died in the early 1990s, and who donated their corpses to medical science.

Sixty prints from the book by photojournalist Alexander Tsiaris, as well as a video made by his company, Anatomical Travelogue, are on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

The show is called "The Human Body Revealed." Elizabeth Lockett is the curator. "The bodies were actually frozen in a large block of blue goo, and they were ground, literally ground, like [in] a mill," she said.

These images began in the early 1990s with a project of the National Library of Medicine, and with a convicted murderer, Joseph Jernigan, who bequeathed his body to science following his execution. At the University of Colorado, Mr. Jernigan's corpse was first imaged with magnetic resonance and computer tomography, and then frozen solid in a block of blue gelatin. The body was then sliced from head to toe into more than 1800 ultra-thin layers.

"They would grind about four millimeters, and then they would polish that surface and photograph it, and then grind a little more, and polish the surface and photograph it, and they did that every four millimeters for the entire length of the body, the whole thing," said Elizabeth Lockett.

Another team performed the same process on a 59-year-old woman who had died of a heart attack. From these multiple sets of data, as well as some electron microscope photographs, Alexander Tsiaras and his team at Anatomical Travelogue used computers to create and colorize these renderings of human anatomy and physiology.

"What you have is basically like a big block of numbers. And he uses algorithms and different tools to sort of strip away the numbers and the information that he doesn't want out of this block of data, and he's left with say, just the skeleton, or just the muscles, or just the organ systems," said Elizabeth.

While the work has uses for science and medical education, Elizabeth Lockett says that it's really more about aesthetics: unveiling the beauty of a world previously unseen. "It's sort of the new nude. I mean, you have books of, you know, artistic renderings of nudes and looking at the 'body beautiful.' Well, this is to show that the inside is as beautiful as the outside," she said.

"The Human Body Revealed" will be on display at Washington's National Museum of Health and Medicine through June. “The Architecture and Design of Man and Woman,” as well as Alexander Tsiaris's other work, can be seen at