CSI:Miami was pretty popular a while back, and with new research revealing how marine critters can help solve crimes, maybe the producers should consider an even beachier spin-off!
Crime scene investigators and forensic scientists work together to reconstruct the events of crime and identify the culprit, and Murdoch University researcher and forensic biology researcher Dr Paola Magni is investigating how marine organisms can provide essential clues.
Forensic biology’s silent witnesses
It’s something that wouldn’t occur to most, but insects, crustaceans, molluscs, microorganisms and plants are actually the first “witnesses” at a crime scene. Some of the most challenging cases to crack are when human bodies are found in the ocean, but forensic biology can help. In her presentation, titled Crimes, Critters & Clues, Paola explains how marine critters can reveal where the body came from, how long it’s been in the water and heaps more.
Paola’s research focus is the application of natural sciences to crime scene investigations. She also works on forensic cases and she’s been an expert witness on cases of homicide, suspicious death, animal cruelty/wildlife and food forensics. Plus, she’s the real-world inspiration for a character in the Italian version of CSI, and was a consultant on the show (R.I.S. Delitti Imperfetti, for all the Italian speakers!)
As well as marine organisms, Paola’s an insect expert, and she’s developed an app called SmartInsects: Forensic entomology, which helps facilitate police and pathologists collecting insect evidence at crime scenes. You can hear more about her research on crime-fighting flies from her TEDxFremantle talk earlier this year.
For the insider scoop on forensic science, a scientist from Australia’s “body farm” busts some forensic science myths and a forensic DNA profiler talks about cracking cold cases. Plus, find out if forensic science is for you with our quiz.
Out of the lab and into FameLab
Paola showcased her research last week at the National Final of FameLab 2019, where she took out the prize for most engaging presentation. FameLab, which is produced by the Foundation for the WA Museum in partnership with the British Council and Creative Partner Cheltenham Science Festival, is an international competition which sees young STEM researchers share their work with the world.
Armed with only their wits and a few props, the thirteen finalists from around Australia took to the stage to present their research in three minutes flat – no PowerPoint, no video and definitely no science jargon allowed!
Paola will travel to the Cheltenham Science Festival to be held in the UK next month to compete at the FameLab finals. Keep up with all of the action on Twitter by following @auBritish @wamuseum @foundation_wam with #FameLabAus, and you can watch all the FameLab finalists on YouTube.
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.