They got her dead to rights!

An Alabama high school senior could be suspended after she posted an Instagram selfie with a cadaver while on a school field trip to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s biology department.

The student, who attends Clements High School in Limestone County, used her cellphone to take a photo of herself with a dead body that had been donated to the school. According to WHNT News 19, sheets are not supposed to be removed from donated bodies and cellphones were prohibited during the tour.

Although the post has been removed from the student’s Instagram account, someone got their hands on a screenshot of the photo and alerted school officials.

Clements High School principal Keith Hairrell would not confirm nor deny if the student had been suspended.


Forensic medicine will gain from disaster research

In an advance toward the first portable device for detecting human bodies buried in disasters and at crime scenes, scientists today report early results from a project to establish the chemical fingerprint of death. Speaking at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), they said a profile of the chemicals released from decomposing bodies could also lead to a valuable new addition to the forensic toolkit: An electronic device that could determine the time elapsed since death quickly, accurately and onsite.

Today, cadaver dogs are the gold standard for detecting and recovering bodies in earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. “These dogs are highly effective, but it takes lots of time, expense and manpower to train them. If there was a device that was as effective for a fraction of the cost, that would be something worth pursuing,” says Dan Sykes, Ph.D., collaborating on this research with graduate student Sarah A. Jones.

To develop such a device, scientists must identify what gases are released as bodies decompose under a variety of natural environmental conditions, Jones noted. In addition, they must detail the time sequence in which those odorant chemicals are released in the hours and days after death…

“Pigs are good models for this research,” Jones says. “They go through the same phases of decomposition as humans, as well as the same number of stages. And those stages last about as long in pigs as they do in humans before complete decomposition occurs and only the bones remain.”

Sykes and Jones placed dead pigs in specially designed odor-collecting units under a variety of environmental conditions. Above each specimen, they affixed special sensors known as solid phase micro extraction (SPME) fibers to capture the gases. These specially-coated fibers are widely used to sample chemical composition of air. Jones and Sykes collected odor data every six to 12 hours over the course of a week.

Studying the week’s worth of odor data, a clear chemical profile emerged. “In days one through three, we found precursors to indole, which is a really good sign. On day three, we found indole and putrescine, the main compounds that we were trying to detect,” Jones says. They now are capturing gases released in a variety of other scenarios to re-construct the different ways human bodies could decompose, creating a more complete picture of decomposition.

Aside from expense, placing dogs in danger – or humans – working a disaster is worth avoiding. Robotic devices are rapidly being developed to search through collapsed buildings, mining rockfalls, etc.. These can be equipped with miniature versions of the devices Sykes and Jones are working towards.

The advantages for CSI’s and coroners are self-evident.