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Morbid curiosity…literally August 5, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in humor, science.
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In one of the spam tech newsletters I get, I saw this little tidbit:

Device Facilitates Detection of Hidden Graves, Even Through Concrete

It turns out that the folks at NIST have developed a device that is a chemical sniffer, picking up the chemical Ninhydrin-Reactive Nitrogen.

Previously, this process involved the tedious and expensive process of solvent extraction of soil samples. Now, a simple probe slightly thicker than a human hair can be inserted into the ground to detect decaying flesh.

Oh, awesome! I always wanted to be able to detect decaying flesh. Helps me keep my distance in case of zombie apocalypse.

Bruno said that the device can be used to detect a body buried under a concrete slab, merely by drilling a one-eighth-inch hole and inserting the probe, thereby eliminating the need for unnecessary digging.

I’m sorry…but they’re asking someone named Bruno about this? A name like that just screams mafia ties. Do you suppose they’ll find Jimmy Hoffa?

(If you want the gory details, pun intended, the press release is here.)

One of my co-workers (who was eating when I read this and stopped soon after) and I discussed the unlucky people who got to do the testing and calibration work on this. Did they have to go to grave sites? Visit cadavers at the morgue?

Nope. They used dead rats.

Bruno and Lovestead used frozen, dead feeder rats for their study and took samples of rats buried under 8 centimeters of soil, laid on top of the soil and from boxes with no dead rats in them.

I wonder if they flipped a coin to figure out who got to read the ‘no dead rat’ boxes.

Honestly, I imagine that this is pretty cutting edge (ouch!) stuff…but the whole thing just cracked me up. (The press release seemed almost Onionesque.)

Chemical detection is a very cool area of science. I am really in awe of people who can do this, though. I refused to dissect a fetal pig in high school not because of moral opposition but because I couldn’t keep my lunch down.

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