The wonder of the human corpse

Dead human bodies (corpses or cadavers) are a hot news topic lately. Just south of Minnesota an Iowa scientist, Tyler O'Brien, is seeking funding to create the nation's second "body farm". Yuck, what a terrible name. But, seriously this could be an enormously important move forward in forensic science.

In other human body news

Doctor for the dead - Why does a mummy need a doctor?
Science Buzz Poll - Would you donate your body to science?

The scientists who help investigators discover how and why people die need to study real human bodies to understand how they decay in different environments. However, the only large-scale facility to study this process is in Tennessee where the climate is very different from here in the Upper-Midwest. Tyler O'Brien, hopes to change that by building a facility in Iowa that could show the effects of our unique climate on a decaying body. How fast does a body decay in a humid Iowa cornfield vs. a Tennessee forest? How about a "chilled to the bone" winter prairie?

All of this sounds pretty morbid. Yet, the study of human cadavers has driven many medical discoveries that go a long way to help the living. I am reading a fascinating book about the subject right now called Stiff, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. It really drills home how important the study of dead human bodies is to science. But don't trust me, come see for yourself in May 2006, when the Science Museum will be hosting Body Worlds exhibit. Body Worlds will contain real human bodies preserved to allow you to see the unique structures that make up all of us.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Al's picture
Al says:

wow. thats quite amazing!

posted on Fri, 12/23/2005 - 1:53pm
Daniel's picture
Daniel says:

Sounds like something that someone is going to fight

posted on Sat, 12/24/2005 - 11:45am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

O'Brien's grant proposals have been rejected before. It's hard for people to get past the gross details and understand the value of this kind of research.

Still, O'Brien is hopeful. While lots of people might consider this use of bodies disrespectful, a growing number don't. At the original Forensic Anthropology Center, in Tennessee, more than 100 people have filed donor applications this year, and more than 600 are on file from the last 10 years.

posted on Tue, 12/27/2005 - 4:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i dont get this\r\n

posted on Mon, 12/26/2005 - 1:09pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think corpses are quite fascinating. In fact, I hope to be one someday! *laughs maniacally*

posted on Mon, 05/08/2006 - 11:31am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i agree this is so gross who would want to be a corpse? with maagots and gross things?

posted on Mon, 05/08/2006 - 12:09pm
someone you've never heard of's picture
someone you've never heard of says:


posted on Mon, 05/08/2006 - 12:12pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think it is very interesting and not many people actually know what it is about. It helps us learn and catch murderers.

posted on Tue, 05/02/2006 - 12:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Guess what? I just think dead bodies are disgusting!!!

posted on Tue, 12/27/2005 - 3:10pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Unfortunately, we don't get a choice about becoming corpses. It will happen to each of us, eventually.

The only mainstream way to avoid becoming food for something else (maggots, bacteria, etc.) is to have your body cremated after you die. Embalming just slows the process of decomposition so that your family can delay your funeral/memorial service. (The bodies donated to medical schools as anatomical bequests are specially embalmed and stored so they can last up to two years.)

Given that it's GOING to happen anyway, some people think that donating their bodies to the people studying decomposition is a good way to benefit others after they're gone. But it's obviously an intensely personal choice.

posted on Mon, 05/08/2006 - 12:43pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

you will make one some day\r\n

posted on Tue, 12/27/2005 - 3:30pm
Keisha Bruguier's picture
Keisha Bruguier says:

I've recently have been into a cadaver lab. I first thought it would be really gross, but it's a very educational and exciting experience.

posted on Tue, 12/27/2005 - 3:37pm
krishelle's picture
krishelle says:

i think that you are gross.

posted on Tue, 12/27/2005 - 3:42pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

No personal attacks, please.

Everyone has a different opinion about this, and they're all valuable.

You can tell us that you find the practice of body donation or anatomical dissection gross, but you can't call another community member gross, OK?

posted on Mon, 05/08/2006 - 12:47pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

It would be very difficult to practice medicine without having \r\nthe ability to dissect the human body. It is one of the first classes you take in medical and dental school.

posted on Wed, 12/28/2005 - 5:15pm
MAGGIE STACK's picture

Everyone should read the book "Stiff." It makes everything about dead bodies sound interesting and not just gross.

posted on Wed, 12/28/2005 - 6:36pm
rebecca's picture
rebecca says:

the book STIFF by mary roach is amazing, i am studying to be a pathologist and i think a body farm would be so beneficial for students.

posted on Thu, 01/05/2006 - 8:47am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The sight of a dead body can scare someone

posted on Thu, 12/29/2005 - 4:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

how long does it take for a human body to decay\r\n

posted on Wed, 03/01/2006 - 2:25pm
bryan kennedy's picture

That all depends on the conditions in which the body decays. Given the right conditions a body can be preserved for hundreds of years (mummies, icemen). Yet, if the body lies in a hostile environment full of critters, water, or caustic chemicals it could break down over the period of several days.

posted on Wed, 03/01/2006 - 2:44pm
Nick's picture
Nick says:

Body farms are needed in every state if at all possible.The weather alone is a science state to state.This is not counting all the bugs and plants that have affecting change over the body in time.
Although another farm should be added as much as our society may hate the thought of it.A "murder body farm" where a body can be set up under a murder cause scene.Under watchful eyes they could see how a knife cut would look as it breaks down or a hit on the head will look after weeks out doors in the cold and rain.This would help so much in finding the killer of a loved one.As it is now we have nothing that we can study but old crime pictures.Just think how much information could be added to a investigation if that knowedge was there.More killers would be locked up and faster.

posted on Thu, 03/16/2006 - 9:03am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

where can I find my nerest body farm? I would love to go and check one out. Why not give your body to sience after you are dead really won't know the diffirence and it will help a lot of people. ...........Peace out

posted on Sun, 04/30/2006 - 11:46am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

The only "body farm" operating in the US right now that *I* know of is the one at the University of Tennessee's Anthropological Research Facility. And, for obvious reasons, they don't really encourage visitors. They certainly don't provide public tours or anything like that.

But if you're interested, read "Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales" by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson.

As for body donation...We're working on a new Buzz kiosk in association with the BODY WORLDS exhibit that will have a feature on how to donate your organs or body. Stay tuned!

posted on Mon, 05/01/2006 - 3:55pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this is very disturbing. i think this is very nasty

posted on Sat, 03/18/2006 - 9:39am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i agree its very digusting!!!!!!!!!!!

posted on Mon, 05/08/2006 - 12:13pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I have watched this farm on Cable TV. My husband would like to donate his body to this important branch of science. Please let us know how to go about this type of donation.


posted on Fri, 02/16/2007 - 1:05pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

If you're interested in donating to the "Body Farm" in Tennessee, contact them directly. (The proposed body farm in Iowa doesn't exist yet.)

posted on Fri, 02/16/2007 - 1:12pm
i wont tell you's picture
i wont tell you says:

i would like to but i cant

posted on Fri, 02/16/2007 - 2:39pm
Starbaby85's picture
Starbaby85 says:

Body farms are interesting because people can study about how people died, how fast they decompose. Honestly I think there should be one in every state so that students don't have to go too far from where they want to go to study this.

posted on Thu, 09/06/2007 - 9:14pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I worked in a morgue for eight years in upstate new york,there is nothing more interesting than the human body and how it works.

posted on Fri, 11/16/2007 - 6:11pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

That is how I found this web site, I was looking to see if we have a body farm near hear. I would like to donate my body to it for the benefits of science. I say go for it!

posted on Wed, 11/28/2007 - 12:25pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:


posted on Sat, 01/19/2008 - 2:12am
LINDAjO Dudley's picture
LINDAjO Dudley says:

Me and my Adopted mom have been interested in wanting to donate our bodies to a body farm for ferensics studies when we die, It would be greatly appreciated if you could email me the information to do so.Thank You so much. L.J.Dudley

posted on Sat, 03/29/2008 - 2:29pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Everyone is a body. Delaying, avoiding, denying or dodging to talk about it it is almost denying you are human. The difference is simple. You are either breathing or you are not. It all depends on if you want to get emotional about it.

The doctor who examines you at the hospital has dissected dead bodies in med school to learn all the secretes about the most intriguing, sophisticated creature on earth. Imagine if he or she looked at you once and ran to puke in the sink saying, "Yuk! Disgusting body." What would you do? Run out and sue the doctor same day!

Body farms! There's one in your family home!

posted on Sun, 07/19/2009 - 2:07pm
Chole''s picture
Chole' says:

I think that dead bodies are very interesting. They let you know so much about the person they were when an autopsy is performed.. What I find most interesting about the dead, is the decaying process. I think its very amazing how something can be so beautiful one minute, and dead and decaying, covered in magots the next. I would love to see pictures. Im not weird, Im a very interested med student.

posted on Wed, 08/26/2009 - 12:47pm

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