Here's what happens to your body when you die

Just in time for Halloween, a new video tackles the chemistry behind dying, including whether or not our hair keeps growing after we're gone.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

Even after your heart stops pumping, your body is still a hotbed of chemical activity. Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET

The good folks who produce the American Chemical Society's "Reactions" series have created short YouTube videos about a variety of important topics like why bacon smells so good, how pot gets us high and how fireworks work. This week -- being that it's the week in which we celebrate ghouls, zombies, vampires and other deadish things -- they've turned their science eyes toward a really big question: What happens when you die?

The video starts with a description of what happens to the blood and cells inside your body when your heart stops beating (hint: the word "putrefacation" is used) and then moves on to discuss the process of embalming (spoiler alert: it involves "all the dark nether regions").

Despite the temporary roadblock the embalming process puts in the path of death, decomposition soon begins again, says the video, and the body starts to produce two very Halloween-sounding chemicals: putrescine and cadaverine. These, along with other sulphur-based chemicals and gases give a dead body its horrendous odor. They're also the two chemicals the ACS said would be key ingredients in an apocalyptic cologne you could splash on yourself to smell like a corpse and throw zombies off your track.

The video features an appearance from mortician Caitlin Doughty who runs the YouTube channel "Ask A Mortician." Doughty is the founder of an organization known as The Order of the Good Death, "a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality," according the group's website. Doughty tackles the question of whether or not our hair and nails continue to grow after we die.

But that's the end of the hints and spoilers. You'll just have to watch the video to find out the answer to that one!