Science & Reality Today: October 13, 2016: Life after life…

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Life after life …

As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of TED Talks. These are presentations from across the globe, which experts give in various scientific realms such as physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and many others.

Last week I came across a TED talk that really affected me and that I highly recommend. The talk took place June 21 at Orcas Island, Washington. Its title is “Life After Life.”

The presenter’s name is Katrina Spade who is the founder and executive director of The Urban Death Project. In her presentation, she discusses this project in detail and how she learned the way farmers and agricultural institutions have a practice called livestock mortality composting.

This process involves taking animals (which are high in nitrogen) and covering them with co-composting materials which are high in carbon. The process also uses oxygen (since it’s an aerobic process) along with moisture. From 2002 to 2007, the percentage of U.S. dairy farms that compost calves more than doubled and composting cows more than tripled. The use of other methods either remained the same or decreased.

Within nine months, all that is left of the body is a nutrient rich compost. This process is 100 percent environmentaly friendly with nature doing all the work. The Urban Death Project, designed on the principles of livestock mortality composting, takes our bodies and transforms them into soil.

“Basically all we humans need to do is to create the right environment for nature to do its job,” said Spade. “It’s like the opposite of antibacterial soap. Instead of fighting them, we welcome microbes and bacteria with open arms.”

The plan is for a future facility in Seattle, Washington, to service everyone interested — regardless of whether they live in or outside the city.

Since 2014, Spade has been running a pilot project in the North Carolina hills in conjunction with the Western Carolina University’s forensic anthropology department. Six volunteers donated their bodies to be covered with wood chips with oxygen required provided by breezes and allowing microbes and bacteria to do their job. During this same period, graduate students from Washington State University are currently working on related research with an emphasis on human teeth.

While I can’t do justice in a single column to the body of work and implications of the Urban Death Project, I recommend you look at the TED Talk presentation online (it’s only 15 minutes) or research the project itself.

One of my favorite sayings is: “The Universe wastes nothing,” and it fits right in with the first law of thermodynamics. So, if we make death (which is just as natural a process as life) easier, I’m sure it will help bring a smile to the mother of us all.

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