Wednesday 12 July 2023

Appeal for PhD funding

Hello there, peeps! Sorry for the long delay since my last post. This post is a little different, as for once, it is not about me. Well, not directly..

Last year, I was contacted by Sarina Riechmann, a brilliant German student wanting to do a PhD in forensic anthropology. We had several long discussions about her potential research, and so she applied to UCLan, had an interview and we were delighted to offer her a place. Unfortunately, there is no university funding to offer, and so Sarina would have to fund her studies herself. I am very excited about her research ideas and her potential, and am very keen for her to come to UCLan to undertake her PhD under my supervision. We already have collaborations in place that would make this PhD something special. The research is very likely to make real-life improvements to the lives of families of missing people or victims of homicide or disaster. 

But she can say it better:

"My name is Sarina Riechmann (25 years old) and I would like to tell you about my childhood dream. Since my school days I have been fascinated by the science of living matter and learning about animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and humans. Subjects such as heredity and the teaching of the development of all living things have encouraged me to further develop my scientific curiosity and areas of interest. Studying Biology and specifically Human Biology at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich allowed me to gain my first insights into Forensic Anthropology and impressed me so deeply with the age and sex determination of human bone and skeletal remains that I went on to further study in Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology at Cranfield University and am now pursuing a PhD in Forensic Science at the University of Central Lancashire to fulfil my career goal in the context of Criminalistics.


The topic of my PhD, Identifying and Tracking Scavengers of Remains in a Forensic Context, focuses on the identification and tracking of animal scavengers in a forensic context. The goal of my PhD work at UCLan, beginning in September 2023, is to develop a simplified and improved analysis of scavenger-induced wound tracks on human and animal remains, as well as to gain an understanding of the geographic distribution of scattered bodies and body parts. Police search advisors and crime scene investigators (CSIs) will learn the ability to detect scavenger tracks on human remains, identify possible scavengers, and track scattering patterns of scavengers in order to adjust search strategies for missing persons accordingly. Ultimately, the research results will be used to provide concrete conclusions and advice to police agencies and forensic institutions to optimize the applied search strategies for fatalities, resulting in higher recovery rates and shortened search times. The critical issue to address is that the entrainment of bodies and body parts by animals into their dwellings complicates the retrieval of all scattered body parts. However, it is paramount to the identification and ethics of many cultures to recover as many body parts and body tissues as possible. Knowing where body parts were taken from scavengers is essential for accurate search strategies by police forces and for survivors.


A PhD abroad at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), England, means a mountain of costs that include aspects such as tuition, research fees, and living expenses. The university doesn't have funding options for my research project, and I cannot get student loans or a scholarship either, as this is a purely international PhD. This means that I have to cover the costs of the PhD abroad and thus the tuition, research fees, and living expenses on my own. However, my savings have already been depleted by my Master's in Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology at Cranfield University, England, which I had to fund on my own. Shortly before I started my Master's degree, my father suffered a brain haemorrhage and has been in a nursing home ever since. That was two years ago now, and not a day goes by that I don't shake and cry when I think of him or the moment of the brain haemorrhage. My mother has to pay for the costs of the nursing home and therefore cannot support me financially. For me, there is no support or financial relief from assistance programs, loans or family. Alone, I can not realize the foreign doctorate and my childhood dream - a profession in the field of criminology. Therefore I would like to ask you for your support. Every little contribution counts and can make a big difference! Your support in realizing my PhD abroad in Forensic Science and thus also in realizing my childhood dream can give me the courage to continue pursuing my hopes and dreams. Your generosity, warm-heartedness and energetic contribution can turn a wish or a future goal into reality and thus make a dreaming and hoping heart smile.


With a big smiling thank you,

Sarina Riechmann"

Tuesday 20 September 2022

What is that bone?

So, posts are like buses - nothing for over two years, and then two turn up on the same day!

I wanted to tell you about a course we have running at the Lancashire Forensic Science Academy

This half term, on 26th October 2022, we are running our famous 'What is that bone?' course. It is aimed at young people (from 12 years up), and is a fun and interactive workshop about animal and human skeletons. If you have ever been out walking and found a bone or two, and thought to yourself, 'What is that bone?', then this is the course for you! It will help you to distinguish between animal and human bone, and to identify some of the most common British animals that you might encounter when out walking. You'll also get to hear about how the ability to determine whether a bone is human or animal can help forensic investigations, and hear about real cases where this has been done by forensic anthropologists. All this, with a chance to learn from real-life experts, gain hands-on experience, and lunch and refreshments are included! In addition, it all takes place in our exclusive facility on the Lancashire Constabulary Head Quarters site just outside Preston. You can book your place here. Please let me know if you have any questions about it. 

Hello there, strangers!

I can't believe how long it has been since my last post - about two and half years!! Well, suffice to say, a lot has changed since then! I have moved across the Penines, from Yorkshire to Lancashire, to join the University of Central Lancashire as Professor of Forensic Science, and Manager of the Lancashire Forensic Science Academy (LFSA). I joined in January 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, so I am no longer a newbie, but all I can say is that I have been very impressed with UCLan so far. Everyone is very friendly, dedicated to their job, knowledgeable, and supportive of forensic taphonomy. I feel that I have finally found 'my people'. I hope that this feeling lasts. 

On a more personal note, my husband and I have now moved to Lancashire, and have found a nice house out in the countryside. It is a bit of commute into Preston, but we are loving the scenery, how welcoming our village has been, and the variety of walks that we can go on in the vicinity. And we have a new addition to our family - a Bernese/Retriever cross called Tobermory. He loves the countryside walks and the proximity to the seaside. 

So, I will endeavour to write more frequently, and tell you what I'm up to at UCLan and the LFSA. More posts to come!

Friday 27 March 2020

Contingency planning for Coronavirus: article

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have never experienced this type of situation before. Government restrictions, national lock-down, police outside ready to stop you if you go is like something out of a dystopian movie. All the worry about vulnerable family members and friends, elderly neighbours, the state of the NHS, just adds to the general feeling of disquiet. 

Last year, my colleague Dr Julia Meaton and I supervised MSc research by Helen-Marie Kruger about the preparedness of local authorities for dealing with a flu pandemic. Of course, since then, the coronavirus situation has developed, and suddenly, our research takes on a new morbid significance. We modeled what would happen with a 50% clinical attack rate and a 1% and 2.5% death rate. Currently, the clinical attack rate of COVID-19 is thought to be about 60-80% and the mortality rate hovers around 1%.

We conducted interviews with employees of a Local Authority, including a senior emergency planning manager, a mortuary manager, a registrar and a bereavement services manager, and we modeled death rates using the UK Government Cabinet Office’s National Planning Assumptions Assessment Tool. In our paper, available here, we discuss how many excess deaths there would be over  15 week period, and as the pandemic reaches its peak, and the strain that would put on the funeral, crematoria and bereavement services. Our findings suggest that although business continuity plans are in place, it is highly likely that these services will be overwhelmed, even in the case of the lower mortality rate.

If you have questions about the paper or our research, please contact me or Dr Meaton.

If you can, please stay indoors to stop the spread of the virus and help our NHS save lives.
Thank you to all the fantastic NHS staff working so hard at this difficult time. 

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Copyright infringement!

It has come to my attention that a website called is using my name, credentials and images, and claiming to have been created by me. It has nothing to do with me and was not created by me. The gallery is full of pictures of me, the website is using others' images without permission, and is pretending to be associated with me. I have sent them a 'cease and desist' email, and contacted the hosting company and the domain registrar to ask them to take it down. I first noticed it in April 2019, and asked them to remove it then - it was for a short time, but it is now back up. I just wanted to make it public that this site has nothing to do with me! If you have any idea who might be involved with it, or behind the website, and know how to get in touch with them, please let me know.

Sunday 12 January 2020


Happy 2020 to all my readers! I am so sorry for the radio silence that has lasted over a year!
I have some exciting news to tell you about. I am very pleased to be involved in a artistic collaboration, funded by the British Arts Council, called Thanatos. It is a collaboration between the very talented artist Eric Fong, and innovative perfumer Euan McCall. Thanatos is a multi-sensory installation which builds on some of the research into the #scentofdeath that I have been involved in. A few years ago, my colleague Gareth Parkes and I supervised PhD research by Lorna Irish, looking into the gases (or volatile organic compounds) that are given off as a body decomposes, to see if the changes in those gases could be used to determine post-mortem interval, and/or could be used to more specifically train Victim Remains detection dogs. We published an article about our research in Science and Justice last year.

Eric Fong - Thanatos

The art installation is focused on the presentation of the perfume Thanatos, which is inspired by this research and the sights and smells of human decomposition. The exhibition is travelling around the country, and over the next few months, will be in Leicester at the Phoenix Cinema and Arts Centre, at the Old Operating Theatre in London, and at Teesside University. There will be lectures, panel discussions and workshops associated with the installation. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Science at the House of Lords

Just before Christmas, I was excited to get an invitation to an afternoon tea at the House of Lords. This was a special invitation-only event to celebrate 30 years of Media Fellowships. These are competitive  fellowships where scientists get to immerse themselves in the fast-paced and often cut-throat world of journalism. They are organised by the British Science Association. Every year, the BSA supports up to ten scientists at different stages of their careers to spend two to six weeks working full time in a media outlet such as The Guardian, Nature, the BBC (either TV or Radio) or New Scientist. They are mentored by journalists and editors at the media outlet, and encouraged to create media outputs (articles, programmes, blog posts, online posts etc) about a wide variety of science topics. The aim is to break down barriers between scientists and the press or media, and to encourage scientists to readily talk and write about their science, as the more science can be shared with the public, the better. The scheme has been running since 1987, and has led to thousands of creative and engaging scientific outputs, whether broadcast, in print or online.

As you may know, I was lucky enough to win one of these Media Fellowships in 2014, and I spent an enlightening month working for New Scientist. During my time there, I learned how to write pithy and exciting articles, and interviewed other scientists about their work. It was extremely interesting, especially to break out of my sometimes insular discipline and learn about many other areas of science. I wrote about toxic algal blooms in America, the glue used on the Terracotta Army, and how cold potatoes can be used to prevent cancer. I also got to write a double page spread about my own area of research, although it concentrated on the work of other scientists in the discipline: Death: the great bacterial takeover. You can read more about my experience from my posts at the time here and here. I would be lying if I didn't say the experience was tough, but it was immensely rewarding, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone.

And so, one of the unexpected perks of the Fellowship, was a rather fancy afternoon tea at the House of Lords. It was a classy occasion, made even better by the chance to meet up again with other Fellows from my cohort - Aditee Mitra in particular - and to meet Fellows from other years and swap experiences and anecdotes. We also heard from Lord David Willetts, and previous and current Media Fellows Ruth McKernan, Helen Czerski, and Rebecca Dewey, who each gave impassioned speeches about how the media should engage with scientists and vice versa. 

Even if there hadn't been the opportunity to go to the House of Lords (which has a lovely shop, by the way), I would wholeheartedly recommend applying for a Media Fellowship, if you're a scientist with even a slight interest in public engagement or science communication. The experience you'll get cannot be gained in academia, or anywhere else for that matter, and is invaluable for improving all types of writing, whether it be in scientific journals, blogs or grant applications. 

Aditee and me outside the House of Lords