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Body of evidence: New fast, reliable method to detect gravesoil
Date:7/30/2010

Nothing against bloodhounds, but finding bodies buried by someone who wanted them to stay undiscovered can be difficult. However a new technique developed by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), can reliably detect biochemical changes in a decomposing cadaver.

Typically, cadaver-sniffing dogs or ground penetrating radar are used to detect clandestine gravesites. But these methods are not always useful in all scenarios, such as if a body is buried under concrete. The NIST instrument is a modification of a technique developed at the lab to sense minute levels of difficult-to-detect chemical compounds. (See "Prototype NIST Method Detects and Measures Elusive Hazards," NIST Tech Beat, Sept. 8, 2009) The process uses an alumina-coated, porous layer, open tubular (PLOT) column with a motorized pipette that pulls in air samples at ambient temperatures. The device detects trace amounts of ninhydrin-reactive nitrogen (NRN) that collects in air pockets above and close to gravesoil. 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.

Developed by NIST chemists Thomas J. Bruno and Tara M. Lovestead and spelled out in a paper published in Forensic Science International,* this is the only known example of detecting NRN in the vapor phase and gives detectives another tool for finding hidden graves. Moreover, 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.

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. They took samples at one week intervals fo
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Contact: James Burrus
james.burrus@nist.gov
303-497-4789
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Source:Eurekalert

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