Saturday, August 9, 2014

Your Body Is Not a Wonderland After Death

3:48 AM

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Has your favorite character died yet? You know, that character you find yourself emotionally attached to (we all have those). Did she walk under a bus, "keep falling in love, which is kind of the same"Did he catch a grenade, throw his head on a blade, or jump in front of train?

Of course, those death scenes never actually happened. In reality, we all know that the “victim” is really just an actor or actress extremely detailed make-up, and that they aren’t actually dead. Dead bodies in the real world have it worse.

Assuming you don’t have your body cremated and you don’t turn into a zombie, this is what will happen to your body after you pass away.

The Man Who Can’t Move 
Before anything else, the heart stops beating, and oxygen-carrying blood stops pumping. Cells and tissues don’t receive any more oxygen, and without oxygen, they die. Brain cells die 3-7 minutes after death, along with everything you’ve ever reviewed for in school. Bone and skin cells don’t die as quickly and can “live” for several days.

Blood begins draining from the capillaries and pools in the lower part of the body (the lower part being the area closest to the ground thanks to gravity), giving this portion a darker and more purplish appearance (this purple is bruise purple, not necessarily Purple Wedding purple, and definitely not Barney purple). The upper part of the body is much paler due to the lack of blood supply. This discoloration is called livor mortis.

After 3 hours, rigor mortis, the stiffening of muscles occurs. Joints become fixed in place because the muscles are unable to relax: the muscle cells take in calcium ions more easily. Living muscle cells use up energy to move out these calcium ions, but now that they’re dead, calcium ions continually enter the muscle cells. These ions aid in the formation of crossbridges between actin and myosin—two fibers that are responsible for muscle contraction—causing the muscles to, well, contract. The muscles won’t be able to loosen up without adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy molecule the muscles require to get rid of calcium ions. This energy source is used up while the muscles contract. The muscles stay contracted until they begin to decompose.

12 hours after, the body will feel cool. Don’t worry. The cold wouldn’t bother you anyway. Within 24 hours (depending on body fat and external temperatures), it will lose all internal heat in a process called algor mortis. 36 hours after death, the muscles start losing their stiffness, and another 36 hours later, the effects of rigor mortis lessen.

A trip to the buffet: No reservations required! 
[Warning: This is where things start getting gross. Not for the faint of stomach.]

Bacteria and fungi break down the body’s cells (“Nom nom nom nom nom! Delicioso!”). After death, a body can still get sick… in different senses of the word. The pancreas gives itself acute pancreatitis, digesting itself with its own enzymes. The entire body experiences a bad case of diarrhea, with decomposing tissue releasing a green substance and gases. A corpse would also catch colds, with fluids from the lungs leaving the body’s interior through the mouth and nose.

Naturally, the body begins to smell. This attracts animals... especially insects.

To insects, home is where death is: Dead bodies are great places for insects to lay their eggs. Those eggs hatch, and larvae proceed to eating the dead. If you’ve seen a corpse left to rot on a TV show (and hopefully not in real life!), then you might have seen maggots all over the body. Their mouth hooks help them pick up fluids expelled by the body. A day after death, the maggots would have made it inside the corpse as they eat it all away. Enzymes spread around the body because of the maggots, turning it into goo more quickly. Maggots seem to be eternally hungry and eat nonstop: Because they breathe through the opposite end of their mouths, they are able to eat and breathe at the same time.

Environmental conditions affect a body’s rate of decay. Generally, bodies exposed to more oxygen decay quickly. After all, most of the organisms eating up the body require oxygen to sustain their own lives. Low temperatures can only decrease the decay rate, with enzyme reactions and bacterial growth slowing down, while high temperatures hasten the process. Water is also necessary for the organisms for digestion and other reactions inside them. Decomposition occurs twice as fast in water as on land.

If you do turn into a zombie, that’s probably another story altogether.


Decaying is a disgusting process, and it’s not very pleasing to talk or read about for some people. Why not consider other death options the same way we consider our life options? You can help grow any kind of tree you choose, build reefs for fish to live in, or shine bright like a diamond (personally, I like the idea of having my remains launched into space).  

For now, enjoy life’s pleasures while you’re alive and kicking. There’s always something new to learn and to experience every day. 

Don’t let the maggots bite. 


References: 
Scheve, Tom. "How Body Farms Work" 18 June 2008. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/body-farm.htm> 05 August 2014. 

Helmenstine, Anne Marie. “What Causes Rigor Mortis?” n.d. About.com. <http://chemistry.about.com/cs/biochemistry/a/aa061903a.htm> 06 August 2014. English, 

Marianne. “Livor Mortis: The Science of Death” 31 October 2011. Discovery News. <http://news.discovery.com/human/science-of-death-111031.htm> 05 August 2014.


Article by Andie

Art by Anica
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Science has been Andie’s thing since she was four (she once thought the Milky Way was the gateway to heaven). She doesn’t mind being called a geek—because it’s obviously true—and is now a physicist in the making. She believes her puns, jokes and pick-up lines are amazing, even if everyone else around her doesn’t. Andie constantly thirsts for adventure, and is ready to give almost anything a try.
Anica is a 13 year old student who loves art. She also likes video games, food, and Adventure Time. Her dream is to become an animator, but she'll have to somehow get through high school before that. Follow her on instagram: @anica_dv.

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