Deadly Quiet Evening at Home

Aug 28 2010 Published by under [Etc], [Science in Society]

Last night, while Scientopia's service inexplicably suspended itself, I used to opportunity to relax a bit. I finished yet-another-murder-mystery and then watched a classic Miss Marple with my Hubby.

An Evening with the Dead

My evening with the dead put me in the mood to fully appreciate an article in the September issue of Scientific American, by Arpad A. Vass.

"Dust to Dust" explores "The brief, eventful afterlife of a human corpse." Decomposition can be divided into four stages: Fresh, Bloat, Active Decay, and Dry. Vass reviews the occurrences of each stage, information used to find bodies and estimate the time of death.

Vass works at the body farm, a laboratory of decomposition at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Donated bodies are allowed to decompose under a variety of conditions and studied. Vass' most groundbreaking (no pun intended) work involves the volatile chemicals released at various stages. Certain groupings of these compounds can provide a signature for a decomposing human body. Chemicals include freons, aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur compounds, and carbon tetrachloride. While cadaver dogs can be attracted to these scents, the Vass lab has created a handheld device (code name: Labrador) that can sense this cocktail of death odors. This device can help police and others searching for remains.

Yes, Arpad Vass is the world's expert on decomposition odor analysis.

Really, the article is fascinating (and no scratch-n-sniffs are included), especially in this era of forensic science television. For those of us who love a good (fictional) murder, it is a special treat.

And it is guaranteed to make almost everyone feel like their job is positively glamorous!

Image courtesy of PhotoXpress.

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