So thought Megan Harries as she measured drops of putrescine and cadaverine — the chemicals that give decomposing corpses their distinctive, terrible odor — into glass vials.
So thought Megan Harries as she measured drops of putrescine and cadaverine — the chemicals that give decomposing corpses their distinctive, terrible odor — into glass vials. She then placed the vials on the floor of a shipping container, walked outside, and closed the door behind her.
Harries, a postdoctoral fellow and chemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), returned a day later, after the vapors diffused. Outside the shipping container, she popped open an aluminum briefcase, unfurled a flexible tube with a metal tip at the end, and inserted that into a small hole drilled into the side of the container.
Harries was conducting the first field test of a high-tech sniffing device called a PLOT-cryo — short for “porous layer open tubular cryogenic adsorption.” This NIST-invented device can be used to detect very low concentrations of chemicals in the air. The results of the test were recently published in Forensic Chemistry.
Image: NIST chemist Megan Harries tests whether a portable, high-tech sniffing device called a PLOT-cryo system can be used to screen shipping containers for dangerous airborne chemicals at ports of entry. For this test, which was performed at the NIST campus in Boulder, Colo., Harries used an old US Army communications bunker as a stand-in for a shipping container. (Credit: Image courtesy of Megan Harries)