ORNL researchers develop way to find hidden graves

ORNL researchers develop way to find hidden graves

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By KRISTYN CADDELL
6 News Reporter 

OAK RIDGE (WATE) -- Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory say they've made a revolutionary breakthrough. They've developed a tool that can help find hidden graves.

For years, the researchers have been studying the chemical makeup of decomposing bodies at the University of Tennessee Body Farm and now, they say it's paid off.

For one thing, they're now able to identify the odor signature that's unique to human burial decomposition.

The tool they use, called the Labrador, looks like a metal detector, but it detects the sound of death.

"We've gathered a lot of data and developed a database to tell us what chemicals are there," explains senior research scientist Marc Wise.

After years of in-depth research at the Body Farm, ORNL can determine the chemical makeup of a decomposing body.

The end product will be used to help law enforcement find clandestine graves.

"A clandestine grave is any grave that is hidden. Typically, a person that has been murdered and buried and people don't want the body to be found," Wise explains.

The Labrador can even discern the different stages of death, which can help determine how long a body has been decomposing.

Researchers demonstrated on Sunday how it can even differentiate a dead pig vs. a dead body, which will help eliminate false positives.

What makes the device so unique is how quickly it can detect even the smallest amount of volatile chemicals.

"The instrument collects the odor coming out of the ground or on the surface. There are 12 sensors in it and when each receives a stimulus from the environment it produces a musical note. The musical note is now recorded on the computer and this screen indicates which sensor is being stimulated and how much of the chemical is present," explains forensics expert Arpad Vass.

Soon, ORNL researchers hope to take the product commercial. It would be manufactured elsewhere and then sold to law enforcement for around $1,000 each. They plan to make that happen in as little as two years.

"We're ready for some initial field trials and it is a working prototype and we are willing and able to go out on various cases and work with law enforcement officials," Wise adds.

For the time being, researchers are just glad they've discovered the sound of death.

The Labrador won't ever replace cadaver dogs, but the goal is to help confirm or deny the dogs' discoveries.

Researchers say they'll continue to update the current prototype until it hits the market.

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