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Vintage tank of
Vintage tank of "Dr. Jim" Bedford, the world's first cryogenically frozen person.

Alcor Cryonics Tour

Field review by the editors.

Scottsdale, Arizona

This appeals to some people: Inviting technology to turn you into a "corpsicle" when you die, hoping that medicine-of-the-future can, 1) reanimate you, and, 2) quickly cure whatever killed you. And for a substantial fee, a company in Arizona will supervise your freezing and tend your corpse until that happy future day.

Mood lighting in the tank chamber.
Mood lighting in the tank chamber.

In the meantime, it hosts "patients" and gives tours.

This isn't as weird as it sounds. Visitors tour cemeteries to see the monuments of the dead. Why not tour Alcor Life Extension Foundation to see the freeze-tanks of those who hope to live again?

Alcor's cryonics facility is housed in a building next to an urban airport in the middle of a desert. It may seem like a peculiar place to store frozen people, but the location is prudent. Scottsdale is believed to be one of the least-likely places in the U.S. to experience a natural disaster, and neighboring Phoenix is home to several manufacturers of liquid nitrogen, which is how Alcor's bodies stay frozen (The facility keeps a year's supply on hand). No electricity is needed, so there's no danger of an awkward thaw if someone accidentally kicks out a plug. And the adjacent airport makes for speedy arrivals from far-away places. The last thing you want for a "Rush: freeze" corpse is to be stuck in a traffic jam.

Here's where the magic happens: the vitrification room at Alcor.
Here's where the magic happens: the vitrification room at Alcor.

Tours of the Alcor facility last about 30 minutes. Visitors learn that the early days of cryonics were somewhat messy; it took time to work out the technical kinks in vitrification, which involves lowering a body's temperature while replacing its fluids with what amounts to medical anti-freeze.

Dummy shows how bodies are pumped full of medical anti-freeze.
Dummy shows how bodies are pumped full of medical anti-freeze.

Alcor offers two storage options: whole body, or just the head (the "neuro option"), which is less expensive and predicated on the additional hope that future medicine can somehow attach a reanimated human head onto a disease-free body (That's right -- laugh it up, Futurama...).

And pets? Alcor freezes them, too! The facility currently stores over 70 animals, mostly cats, but also a few dogs, a chinchilla, and even a turtle. The cost is based on Alcor's unique "cat head" unit of volume measurement: one cat head currently equals $2,500, and as the size increases so does the cost, and quickly. For example, an 80 pound dog takes up as much space in a freeze tank as a human adult.

Visitors are shown a mock vitrification on a patient dummy, encouraging them to stand up close and get a good look at what's going on (There is no head removal demonstration).

Next on the tour, behind glass, is the real room where vitrifications are performed (Tours are not conducted while a body is being vitrified). The abundance of tubes and surgical instruments gives the room the look of a combination morgue and hospital, which is what it is.

Liquid nitrogen keeps bodies chilled until science can revive them in... well, no one really knows when.
Liquid nitrogen keeps bodies chilled until science can revive them in... well, no one really knows when.

Then it's on to the vessel chamber. On display is the tank of James "Dr. Jim" Bedford, the original cryonaut, which shows how frozen body technology has improved over the years. An accompanying sign relates that Dr. Jim was frozen in what looks like a back yard propane tank on January 12, 1967, then transferred to a second tank in 1970, and then moved to his upright, brushed-steel deep freeze in 1991. The room today, with its spotless metal tanks, resembles a modern micro-brewery.

Our tour guide explained that bodies are stored head-down; if a global apocalypse cuts off the liquid nitrogen supply for over a year, and the tanks start running low, only a corpse's feet might eventually be exposed.

The vessel chamber has what could be called a "media mode" with colored lighting that makes the tanks look more futuristic. If a news crew is filming, Alcor can boost the humidity of the room and top off the tanks with liquid nitrogen, giving the chamber a smokey, sci-fi look.

Pictures of currently frozen people line the halls of the facility -- Alcor stores over 160 frozen bodies and heads of adults and children -- to remind employees and visitors that this isn't some abstract science experiment. Dr. Jim, for example, has been vitrified for so long that if he were successfully reanimated today, he would be the oldest human being on the planet.

Tours are free, with an intent of increasing public awareness of what many may believe was only possible in cartoons and science fiction films. Visitors who are inspired by what they've seen can end their tour by signing up to be frozen.

[Report by "Robot" Greg Brown]

Alcor Cryonics Tour

Alcor Life Extension Foundation

7895 E. Acoma Drive, Scottsdale, AZ
Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Northeast edge of the city, just southeast of the airport. On the south side of E. Acoma Drive at its intersection with N. 78th Way.
Tours Tu 10 am, F 2 pm. By appt only. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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