Friday, 5 June 2015

The Scent of Death

I just thought I'd let you know about some forthcoming events this year that all focus around the same theme, of the 'Scent of Death'.

One of my current research interests is the identification of the gaseous products of decomposition of cadavers as a function of time. I currently have an excellent PhD student, Lorna Irish, working on this very problem in the Forensic Anthropology Research Group at Huddersfield University. Lorna's focus is to combine the identification of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are given off as a cadaver (in our case, pig cadavers) decomposes, with an assessment of the performance of dogs trained to detect human remains. Our research has been written about here and here.

Throughout the course of the research, we have discovered that the VOCs given off by a cadaver change as the process of decomposition advances, and that different VOCs are present at different times. This could have important implications for post-mortem interval estimation. I don't want to give too much away, as the results will be published soon.

Over the summer and the autumn, I will be presenting the results of the research in different events. The first event is at the Royal Institution on the 10th July. I will presenting an interactive talk and demonstration about the scent of death and decomposition at one of their 'Lates', adult-only events. This one is entitled 'Life and Death'. More details can be found here.

The second event is the British Science Festival, which this year is being held in Bradford, from the 7th to the 10th of September. I had such a brilliant time last year - see the post - that I cannot wait for this one! Come along and smell the scents if you dare!

The third event is an exhibition to be held at the London School of Medicine in October, hosted by Art Necro. This event is bringing together arts and scientists to present on different aspects of death. I won't say too much, but it promises to be an incredible exhibition.

Aquatic Forensics Group

As some of you may know, I am proud member of the Burial Research Consortium. This is a group of academics from different universities and institutions around the world who are particularly interested in taphonomy research. We have different specialisms within our consortium, ranging from entomologists and anthropologists to geophysicians (if that's the right word) and geologists. The aim is to bring our varied experience, expertise and perspective to joint projects and to improve our understanding of human and animal decomposition, and the interaction between cadavers and the environment, soil and ecology.

We are now proud to announce a new string to our bow - a new 'sister' group to the Burial Research Consortium...the Aquatic Forensics Group. This is a newly formed alliance of academics and practitioners with a shared interest in forensic evidence from water. This includes micro-organisms, diatoms and newer phenomena such as micro-plastics, and their use in a forensic context. We are particularly interested in questions such as the estimation of post-mortem submersion interval, and the use of diatoms for the diagnosis and provenancing of drowning. The new website provides more information about the projects being undertaken by AFG members, and has links to useful resources for those interested in different types of aquatic evidence. Please have a look! Also, feel free to follow @waterforensics on Twitter!