People in crime shows can just look at a body and tell the time of death, but for real life forensic scientists it’s not so easy…
Samara Garrett-Rickman, a PhD candidate at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) studies how human bodies decompose – a field called forensic taphonomy – so she gets there’s more to it. “Temperature, weather, animal and insect interference are just some of the factors,” says Samara.
In order to investigate, human donor bodies are placed outside in the natural environment within the grounds of the research centre and allowed to break down to skeletonisation. Samara studies how DNA changes over time, improving methods for telling the time of death.
There are currently 2500 thousand missing persons in Australia – along with 500 unidentified human remains – so breakthroughs in forensic taphonomy could go a long way to help match remains with missing persons and give families closure. It’s important work.
Samara initially started studying medicine but was drawn to the puzzle-solving nature of forensics. She transferred to a Bachelor of Forensic Biology (Honours) at UTS before starting her PhD.
“Forensics is cool. When I found out you can develop fingerprints off paper that has been in a swimming pool and still get identification information, my mind was blown,” Samara says.
Samara’s career path
- Bachelor of Health Science, The University of Auckland
- Bachelor of Science (flexible major), UTS
- Bachelor of Forensic Biology in Biomedical Science (Honours), UTS
- PhD in Forensic Taphonomy, UTS
To get there: bit.ly/UTSscience
This article is brought to you in partnership with UTS
Author: Cherese Sonkkila
Cherese is Assistant Editor of Careers with STEM. She is passionate about producing engaging STEM content and has a strong background in science writing and editing. She holds a science degree with Honours from the University of Melbourne.