Stories tagged death

List of the day

by Gene on Feb. 28th, 2010

15 cute animals that could kill you. I would like to draw everyone's attention to number 5:

[A]ll of the world's big cats — including tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards and cheetahs — can threaten lives if they are mishandled.

An Australian study shows that the more TV you watch, the greater your risk for early death, especially from cancer or heart disease. In fact, every extra hour you spend in front of the tube per day (on average) increases your risk 11%. So, get off the couch and get some exercise!


Many people wonder what happens to your hair and nail after death. Does your hair and nails still grow by itself or does it just stop right after death? There was an argument saying that your nails and hair still do grow after death, while others say they stop growing after death. What is the answer to this situation?

Well the answer is easy. No, your hair and nails don't still grow after death. As you die, your body dehydrates. This causes the skin and organs to shrink in size (remember your body is made out of 70% of water) but not the hair and nails. This gives the appearance of growth, but it's really the skin being pulled back. The reason the hair and nails don't shrink is because while the rest of the body does, it's already dead. The only part of hair that is alive is the follicle (a small spherical group of cells) and when that dies, you go bald over times as your hair falls out. And since because your hair grows do to protein and oil, there isn't any living cells to carry out this function so it would just be long gone. Hairs and nails don't shrink during funeral time is because they used some moisturizing cream on their body and hair, this stops it from shrinking. And if they didn’t then your hair would have fallen out and you would go bald.

When I first heard about this situation about hair and nails still growing after death, I was shock. And I was like no way your hair and nails still grow after death. I just had to research about the topic and find answers to this. When I did found out that the answer was no, I was like ok this is a better understanding. How can your hair and nails still grow when your body is already shut down? I am glad that I found the answer to this. Now I know the truth.


Air France Airbus A330-200 aircraft, similar to the one used for Flight 447
Air France Airbus A330-200 aircraft, similar to the one used for Flight 447Courtesy Christopher Weyer
It's grim news, but the autopsies of the 51 bodies recovered from the June 1 Air France Flight 447 crash in the Atlantic Ocean reveal that the crash victims did not drown. Why is this important? It is looking more and more unlikely that the black boxes from the crash will be recovered (though submarine searches for them will resume next week). So, investigators have to turn to all the other bits of evidence they have to determine the cause of the crash, including clues that can be found in the condition of the recovered bodies.

You can learn a lot from a cadaver recovered from a plane crash. Bits of debris impeded inside bodies can indicate an explosion. The type and location of injury (on the right side or left side of the body) used in conjunction with a seating chart can help pinpoint where an explosion or event might have originated on the plane. Are the bodies burned on the front (indicating a fire in the cabin while the passenger would still be seated with the back protected by their seat) or on their backs (perhaps indicating that they were burned by fire on the ground or floating out of their seats). Are they clothed? Studies have shown that a fully clothed person will have their clothes “blasted off” when they hit the water, which would indicate that the bodies had been ejected from the plane while in the air. And lack of drowning likely indicates that the passengers were dead before, or were killed as a result of, a water impact.

If you are interested in learning more about cadavers and what you can learn with and from them, check out the book Stiff by Mary Roach, it’s an interesting read.

The bodies that are being recovered show no signs of being in an explosion, so that is being ruled out as the cause of the crash at this point. Authorities now believe that the plane was intact when it hit the water, but the cause of the crash is still not known.

The last survivor of the Titanic died today. Millvina Dean was 97 years old. Although she did not remember the disaster (she was only nine weeks old when her family boarded the ill-fated ship), her story intrigued many. She was the ship's youngest passenger. Her mother and brother also survived, but her father did not. This short video features Millvina telling a bit of her story. You can read the full story here.


Archaeologists excavate mass graves in Iraq.
Archaeologists excavate mass graves in Iraq.Courtesy US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District and Regime Crimes Liaison Office
It’s the last weekend to go check out the CSI exhibit which takes visitors through the process of gathering forensic evidence and solving a case and the January issue of Archaeology magazine offers a really interesting look at how forensic techniques can be used on a large scale. It follows the role of American archaeologists in gathering evidence used in the trial of Saddam Hussein and other leaders for the 1988 mass murder of Kurdish people in Iraq.

Investigators had many documents suggesting the previous Iraqi leaders were guilty of genocide and had found what looked like mass graves. However, they looked to excavating the graves and locating the bodies in order to prove that the previous Iraqi government had targeted a civilian population of a particular ethnicity.

Mobile camp to analyze remains and artifacts
Mobile camp to analyze remains and artifactsCourtesy US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District and the Regime Crimes Liaison Office
A team of archaeologists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the desert and found 10 burial pits all oriented in the same direction. They uncovered one of the pits and photographed it. Then they removed each body with its clothes and belongings one at a time, marking each one’s position. They made a case file for each victim and analyzed each individual’s clothing, bones, and DNA samples to reconstruct what had happened.

I was shocked to read that of the 114 people they found, 84 were children. From the belongings people had with them, the team thought that the victims expected to be relocated but were instead led into a one of 10 already dug pits and shot.

The archaeological evidence was used in court along with government documents and eyewitness accounts including the testimony of a man who had survived the massacre. Hussein had been sentenced to death in another trial, but five of the other six defendants were convicted.

The team of archaeologists stayed to excavate and return the bodies to Kurdish officials, who held a reburial ceremony and plan to use some of the objects for a holocaust museum.


Careful with that spray, dude: You're playing with fire there.
Careful with that spray, dude: You're playing with fire there.Courtesy reemer
Hey there, kiddos. Welcome to a brand new edition of Science Buzz: The Horror.

As usual on The Horror, today we’ll be obsessing over a somewhat concerning aspect of the world we live in: sprays.

It turns out that some of the stuff we love to spray on ourselves can be pretty nasty for us. The headline of this post may be distorting things a little (it’s called hyperbole, okay, and it’s the best thing in the history of everything, so lay off), so we ought to clear that up a little first.

When I say that hairspray mutilates your junk, I’m referring to the junk of the world. Your own junk is probably pretty safe, but the junk of your children is being put at risk by your use of hairspray. See, while I’m sure that you could find a way to use hairspray to destroy your own genitals, the issue at hand is that heavy exposure to hairspray during pregnancy can contribute to birth defects. Defects of the junk. Penis defects, in particular. It seems that certain chemicals found in hairspray, called phthalates, disrupt hormones in pregnant women. This increases the chance that their sons will be born with a condition called hypospadias (and I won’t be linking to that because the images that turn up are… whatever). Hypospadias causes the urinary opening to shift to the underside of the penis. Obviously, this sort of thing could lead to a whole range of penis-related problems. It can be fixed with surgery, but, given the option, I’m guessing that most boys wouldn’t choose to have hypospadias. So maybe you easy on the hairspray when you’re preggers.

Okay. So what about “Body spray: it kills you”?

Well, it would be very difficult for Axe to kill you (as opposed to an axe, I guess, which could kill you easily). But it looks like Lynx body spray (the Euro version of Axe) killed this poor kid. The boy collapsed in the bathroom while reapplying a “copious amount” of body spray to himself. There were no drugs in his system, but something caused his heart to start beating so irregularly that he died five days later in the hospital. As near as the doctors could tell, the episode was caused by the “passive inhalation of solvent”—that is, from accidentally inhaling too much of the body spray fumes that were trapped in the little bathroom. The spray can does warn against prolonged spraying, and says that it should only be used in well-ventilated areas. But who reads warning labels? So maybe go easy on the body spray.

(Actually, go easy on the body spray regardless of associated health issues. If not for yourself, then do it for the rest of us.)

Start your fretting.

Heard about the pigcam? While the Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting the CSI exhibit this winter we are digging deeper into forensic science. We have some expert scientists who study bugs at the scene of a crime and even real murder scenes here in Minneapolis. But most people's favorite feature is the pigcam, and we have a new video for you. Curious? Check it out, but I must warn you the videos do feature some graphic decay.


Almost 50 years ago in Canada, a 14-year old boy was sentenced to death for the alleged murder of a 12-year old classmate. The 12-year old was found murdered two days after she was last seen with the 14-year old. Public opinion resulted in the boy being sentenced to life, due to what many thought was an improperly carried out investigation. Some of the evidence from this investigation included photographing and collecting some maggots from the body of the 12-year old. In 2000, the case was reopened.

Part of the research of the defense centers on the maggot evidence collected in 1959. In 2006, the corpses of three pigs were placed at the crime scene to collect additional maggot specimens. For those not in the know with regard to fly lifecycles, the development of a fly from egg to larva (maggot) to pupa to adult is tied to local environmental conditions, such as the temperature. Richard Merritt, a fly specialist from Michigan State University reviewed the specimens and environmental data. After examining the small size of the 1959 maggots, larval growth rates and the temperature, Merritt determined that there was no way that the boy could have committed the murder the day the girl disappeared (the boy had an alibi for the following day).

To check out some maggots in action on a pig corpse, check out Liza's pig cam log on Science Buzz pig!


CSI: The Experience will open here at SMM on October 15.

One aspect of crime scene investigation is forensic entomology: the use of insects found on or near a body to help determine the time, manner, and location of death.

And we're fortunate that Valerie Cervenka, the first female board certified forensic entomologist, lives here in St. Paul. She's our Scientist on the Spot right now, so you can read about her work and get her answers to your questions.

And, Buzzketeers, do we have something "special" for you... Lots of forensic entomology studies are done using pigs, because (according to Jessica Snyder Sach's Corpse:

"The soft, near-hairless skin of a domestic pig closely duplicates that of a human, and that the torso of a luau-size porker parallels that of a 160-pound man."

Pig, @2pm, 9-18-08: Our pig, fresh from the freezer.
Pig, @2pm, 9-18-08: Our pig, fresh from the freezer.Courtesy Liza Pryor

That is, the skin, muscle/fat ratio, and other characteristics of pigs are reasonably good approximations of humans'. In death, what happens to a pig, and when, is pretty similar to what happens to human corpses. (If you think that's unpalatable, consider that the other way we can calibrate insect evidence is to do controlled studies at places like Tennessee's "Body Farm," where researchers observe what happens to people instead of pigs. You can search Buzz for the term "body farm" if you're interested in that: we've done a few stories.)

So we've obtained a young pig. (Don't worry: the pig died of natural causes.) And we've put it in a cage, with a webcam, and we're letting it decompose. The camera records a still image every 15 seconds, and we'll eventually turn all those photos into a time lapse, which Val Cervenka will help us interpret. Pretty cool. Pretty gross. And all in the interest of science.

Why didn't we wait for the exhibit? Well, insect activity slows dramatically or even drops off to nothing once the outside temperature gets to about 50 degrees. To follow the pig through most of its stages of decomposition, we had to get it going now.

Want to see what's going on with the decomposing pig right now? Click here. But don't say we didn't warn you. It's graphic.