Australian first in forensic study of human decomposition

Published 01 December 2014

xmallettThe University of New England is partnering in a new project that will revolutionise forensic science in Australia. The project, funded through the Australian Research Council Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) scheme and led by Professor Shari Forbes from the University of Technology Sydney, focuses on the science behind the decomposition of human remains.

A group of forensic experts have just received the go ahead to establish the first outdoor research facility in Australia studying forensic human decomposition. The multidisciplinary facility for experimental research is the first of its kind outside of the United States.

Dr Xanthé Mallett, Forensic Criminologist and Senior Lecturer in UNE’s School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, says the research will involve studying the decomposition of human cadavers in order to improve scientists’ understanding of factors that are essential to interpreting death scenes.

“We will be able to study important factors such as the effect of temperature and humidity on human decomposition rates, and the impacts of entomological (insects) activity,” Dr Mallett said.

“The aim is to help police with missing persons and homicide investigations.”

As a project leader for UNE, Dr Mallett will also be undertaking forensic research at the site, focusing on what happens to human tissue post-mortem under various conditions.

“All aspects of death scene analysis will be analysed at the facility, from the time of death to the time of discovery, as well as training in clandestine grave site and body recovery”, says Dr Mallett.

“This is our chance to make a huge difference to our understanding of human decomposition under Australian conditions.”

The facility is to be established on the outskirts of Sydney, and will be the first in the Southern Hemisphere to use donated human cadavers to study the processes of decomposition. The research will be conducted in collaboration with police and forensic services, ensuring data generated at the facility is applicable to human death investigations.

The facility has council approval, and has been awarded a $430,000 LIEF grant by the Australian Research Council. This grant will support the establishment of the facility early 2014, on land owned by UTS.

In addition to UTS and UNE, the research partners include the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, the University of Wollongong, the University of Sydney, the University of Canberra, the Australian National University, the Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police and the NSW Police Department.