On three acres surrounded by razor-wire and a wooden fences near the University of Tennessee Medical Center, about 40 bodies rot away at any given time. They're stuffed into car trunks, left lying in the sun or shade, buried in shallow graves, covered with brush or submerged in ponds.
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Students and UT anthropologists Richard Janz and his wife, Lee Meadows Janz, a former Bass student, take note of what insects come calling, and how long it takes them to do their work. Others test vital organs for protein degradation, amino-acid breakdown and levels of gas in the tissue. A project in partnership with the nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory aims to create a calendar of decomposition by finding a substance that decays at a stable rate for comparison -- the half-life of death, so to speak.