What Happens When You Donate Your Body To Science?

You expand the body of research, so to speak.

Body Parts

Don't worry—your remains won't end up in our magazine. No actual bodies were used in the making of this photograph.Sam Kaplan

No computer simulation or dummy or animal can really convey the complexity of human anatomy like a cadaver can. But what exactly happens to your body when you donate it to science?

Safety Studies

Researchers subject cadavers to laboratory scenarios—an impact into a simplified car's steering wheel and seat, for instance—and record the resulting forces and injuries to help design crash-test dummies and heads, which, unlike real flesh, can be standardized for controlled evaluations of cars and safety gear.

Forensics

Forensic researchers use cadavers to study decomposition, including that caused by flesh-eating insects, which can help law enforcement better pinpoint a victim's time of death and the cause of certain injuries. Sometimes they re-create crime scenes to test hypotheses about specific murder cases.

Medical Training

In basic anatomy class, new medical students dissect bodies to gain their first hands-on experience with the human form and observe variation (everyone is a unique size and shape). Cadaver parts also provide models for practicing doctors to learn new surgical techniques.

How To Donate Your Body To Science

Where do I sign up?
To make a research donation, try contacting a local medical school or state anatomy board. (Driver's license donations are typically only for organ transplants to living patients.)

Is my organization legitimate?
If you don't want to end up as someone's cosmetic collagen filler (for real!), ensure your recipient is 501(c), the code for nonprofits.

Will my body be buried afterward?
Most programs offer to return cremated remains to families. And many honor those with unclaimed ashes at common burial sites.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Popular Science.