Syd­ney Sci­ence Fes­ti­val

Foren­sics ex­plained, life on Mars and more

Time Out (Sydney) - - Inside - By Re­becca Russo

HID­DEN DEEP IN the Blue Moun­tains is the Aus­tralian Fa­cil­ity for Tapho­nomic Ex­per­i­men­tal Re­search, run by UTS. It’s com­monly short­ened to AF­TER, but many know it by an­other name: the body farm. It’s here lead­ing sci­en­tific re­searcher pro­fes­sor Shari Forbes spends most of her time sur­rounded by de­com­pos­ing dead bod­ies. Mor­bid, yes, but fas­ci­nat­ing. “AF­TER is the only fa­cil­ity in Aus­tralia where we al­low peo­ple to do­nate their bod­ies to sci­ence so that we can study the process of de­com­po­si­tion,” says Forbes. Her job is to as­sist with ca­daver de­tec­tion dogs. “I col­lect and chem­i­cally an­a­lyse the de­com­po­si­tion odour,” she says. “We’re try­ing to un­der­stand the com­pounds in the odour that dogs recog­nise when they’re look­ing for hu­man re­mains.” The fa­cil­ity is the first of its kind in Aus­tralia, and mod­els it­self af­ter the body farms found in the US. They both love and loathe the com­par­i­son to TV’s CSI. “We love it be­cause it has re­ally raised aware­ness of foren­sic sci­ence but it’s caused what we call the ‘CSI Ef­fect’ where there’s an un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion of what we can achieve and the time frame we can do that in.” Since open­ing the body farm early last year, they’ve dis­cov­ered how dif­fer­ent bod­ies de­cay in vary­ing cli­mates. Forbes tells us they can no longer use pigs as an ac­cu­rate anal­ogy for hu­man de­com­po­si­tion. “It’s shown me that my last ten years of re­search has not been as ac­cu­rate as I would have liked. But it’s also shown why we have to have these fa­cil­i­ties. We can never recre­ate a real sce­nario un­less we have hu­man re­mains be­ing used.” Pro­fes­sor Forbes is the am­bas­sador for Syd­ney Sci­ence Fes­ti­val – two weeks of talks, ex­hi­bi­tions and work­shops from Au­gust 8-20. She’ll be giv­ing a key­note talk on all things foren­sics, death and de­com­po­si­tion – but don’t worry, she makes this not-so-din­ner-party-friendly topic ac­ces­si­ble. àCrack­ing the World of Foren­sics. Pow­er­house Mu­seum, 500 Har­ris St, Ul­timo 2007. 02 9217 0111. syd­ney­ 6.30pm. $0-$32. Fri Aug 11.

“We can’t recre­ate a real sce­nario with­out hu­man re­mains”

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