Fisher explains what’s happening inside the high-pressure chamber: Potassium hydroxide is being mixed with water heated to 302 degrees Fahrenheit. A biochemical reaction is taking place, and the flesh is dissolving off the bones. In the course of about four hours, the strong alkaline base breaks down everything but the skeleton into the original components that built it: sugar, salts, peptides, and amino acids. DNA unzips into its nucleobases—cytosine, guanine, adenine, thymine. The body becomes a sterile watery liquid that looks like weak tea. The liquid shoots through a pipe into a holding tank in the opposite corner of the room, where it will cool, reach an acceptable pH, and be released down the drain.
Fisher, gray-haired and beaming in light-green scrubs, says I can step outside if it all gets to be too much, but it’s not actually that terrible. The human body, liquefied, smells like steamed clams.