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The Science of Hugo Chavez's Long Term Embalming

Hugh Pickens writes (1984118) writes | about a year ago

Science 0

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Discover Magazine reports that Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez will apparently get an embalming job designed to keep him looking alive for decades similar to that of Russia's Vladimir Lenin, whose body still lies in a mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square, nearly 90 years after his death. So how do you preserve a human body for decades without it turning into a pile of melted tissue? First, get to work quickly. Upon death, the human body starts decomposing immediately. The way to stop it is with formaldehyde, a preservative used for the past century, which inhibits the enzyme decomposition as well as killing bacteria. “You pump the chemical in, and as the formaldehyde hits the cells of the body, it firms up the protein of the cell, or fixates it,” says Vernie Fountain, head of the Fountain National Academy of Professional Embalming Skills in Springfield, Mo. “That’s what makes them stiff.” With a body that will have to be on display for years, it’s likely to require a top-shelf, super-strong solution. “If I were doing Hugo Chavez, I would strengthen the solution and use more preservative product,” says Fountain. Next, get a good moisturizer. Formaldehyde preserves, but it also dries out the body. Vaseline or other moisturizers can preserve the look of skin, according to Melissa Johnson Williams, executive director of the American Society of Embalmers. Finally keep cool. Heat decomposes a body so for long term preservation, the body has to be kept at the temperature of a standard kitchen refrigerator, somewhere in the mid-40s. Lastly, if Venezuelans really want to keep Hugo Chavez around forever, like many other world figures, there’s only one solution that works, according to Fountain. “The best form of preservation is mummification.""

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