Research at a Glance

by Cassandra Sproles September 15, 2017

Since its beginnings, the Forensic Anthropology Center has been conducting research that continually pushes the boundaries of what the world knows about human decomposition. Take a look at three research projects that are helping to expand the world’s forensic knowledge.

HUMANS/PIGS/RABBITS

For years, forensic court cases worldwide have routinely used animal models to estimate the time since death, or postmortem interval, of human remains, largely because access to human subjects was not available. A UT study shows that doing so could yield flawed results because decomposition rates, insect activity, and scavenger activity vary greatly between human and nonhuman subjects. The study indicates that human decomposition is much more variable than that of either pigs or rabbits—a finding that could impact court cases around the world.

3D CRIME SCENE MAPPING

The stakes are high when documenting a crime scene, and mistakes can be costly when it comes to seeking justice for victims. With this in mind, a current study at the research center is assessing how different documentation methods affect crime scene interpretation and whether the use of 3D laser scanners could be the best method. UT anthropologists are working with a special agent from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a forensic anthropologist from the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on the project, which is documenting eight outdoor mock crime scenes and four indoor scenes at the facility.

BIOMETRICS

For the first time ever, the FAC will conduct a study with living people who have agreed to donate their body to the research  facility when they die. The research will focus on biometrics—the study of how technology can be used to recognize people in different types of images, such as a picture of their face, iris, or fingerprints. Data will be gathered from predonors, and once a donor has passed away a new set of data will be collected to help determine how the natural decomposition process could slow down automatic biometric recognition systems like video cameras. The hope is to improve these systems to help law enforcement and medical examiners more rapidly identify deceased individuals.


Illustration by Justin Helton (’07) of Status Serigraph

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