Sunday, 21 May 2017

Dental Arcade Game at Eureka!

Over the last couple of years, I have been running a citizen science project called the Dental Arcade Game (see this blog post).
The project aims to improve the reference data used by Forensic Anthropologists to estimate the age of unknown remains (especially children) from dental eruption. Dental eruption (i.e. when teeth poke out through the gums) happens at roughly predictable times during childhood. However, the reference data routinely used by Forensic Anthropologists is outdated and very population-specific, and needs to more data from more people. So, we need a way of getting lots and lots of dental eruption data from people of known ages. This is where citizen science and the magic of social media comes in!

We need people (especially children) to participate in our short survey, where they give their age and tell us which teeth they have in their mouths and which have fallen out. The survey has received ethical approval from the University of Huddersfield Research Ethics and Integrity Committee, and is completely anonymous. It only takes 10 minutes, and you can do it online. You don't need any special equipment, just a friend to look at your mouth, or a mirror to look at your own mouth. You can also look at the Dental Arcade Game website, where there are quizzes and arcade-type games to play, such as Mouth Invaders and Plaque-Man. It also includes more information about Forensic Anthropology and how you can get involved. You can also follow the project on Twitter @Dental_Arcade.

This summer, we have been very lucky to be invited to share our research at the Eureka! National Children's Museum in Halifax. This is a really vibrant, exciting museum that caters for children of all ages, with super interactive exhibits about the body, the weather, digital science and much much more. Our Dental Arcade Game is on in the All About Me zone, which allows children to explore digestion, senses, bones, babies and food. Our activity fits in very well, as it encourages children to think about their teeth, and give us valuable data by showing us which ones have erupted and which ones are loose. So far, we have had very good feedback and the visitors have loved getting involved.

We are next at the Eureka! Museum on the 1st and 2nd of June and the 29th and 30th June. Come along for a fantastic day out!

We will also be having a stall and activity centre at the Festival of Childhood at Huddersfield University on the 22nd and 23rd June. Come along and get involved in our citizen science project!



Sunday, 2 April 2017

Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies conference held at the University of Southampton. It was a little different to the conferences I normally attend, as instead of being solely focussed on forensic science, it had an intriguing mix of funerary archaeology, osteology, social commentary, debates about the notion of death and much more. It was a really refreshing, eclectic mix of attitudes toward death and dying. Also, it was very well organised, by Sarah Schwarz.

I gave a (rushed) talk on 'The Case for a 'Body Farm' in the UK', detailing the history of Human Taphonomy Facilities across the world, and showing what they have taught us about human decomposition in different environments. I also put forward arguments for and against the opening of a Human Taphonomy Facility (HTF) in the UK. I asked all the people attending the conference to go to @HTF4UK and fill in our survey asking about their opinion on whether there should be an HTF in the UK. If you have a spare ten minutes, please fill in our survey here. We would really appreciate your opinion. If you're not sure what HTFs are and what goes on in one, have a look here.

On the Sunday, I gave a workshop on 'The Scent of Death', where I introduced the delegates to the some of the different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that we have identified from our work looking at the gaseous products of decomposition. We have identified different VOCs and used them to test Victim Remains Detection (VRD) dogs in the UK to see if they indicated on any of the individual chemicals (results to be published soon). The delegates got to smell some of the (non-toxic) VOCs, match them with different stages of decomposition, and describe them in their own words - this turned out to be very amusing! Some of the smells were described as "strong cheese, but that's OK, I like strong cheese", "the smell of bloodhounds", "vintage shops", "old people's homes", and "baby sick". Not everybody enjoyed it. One person said it was the worst smell she had ever encountered. For me, it's just part of my job!