Hi everyone. My name is Maiken, we're going to change the topic a little bit. So I work in a field called forensic taphonomy. Taphonomy it comes from the Greek word taphos which means burial and nomos which means law. And we look at what happens to an organism when it dies until it's found. But what I do is I look at what happens when we die, how the body is breaking down and how we can use that to find humans and how we can help police determine how long someone's been dead. And my research is looking more at using the principles of forensic taphonomy in mass disasters.
So mass disasters can be natural disasters, so these are things such as earthquakes or tsunamis which are happening more and more due to global warming. They can also be manmade disasters such as building collapses which you can see here following explosions. They can be plane crashes following terrorist attacks. Imagine if one of your loved ones was in an area where one of these mass disasters occurred. Your number one priority would be first of all to figure out if they were in that area. And then secondly to get answers about what happened to them and at the moment families are left waiting far too long for answers and in some cases the dead are never identified and families are never given answers they need to get closure. And I want to change that by finding better ways of finding people in these scenarios and recovering them with all of their evidence so that we can prosecute anyone responsible and then identifying them. Though as human we have metal associated with us. That's from the perfume we wear, from any soaps we use, from what we eat, from how often we shower or in some cases how often we don't shower in the same is true when we die. But when we die we have a smell about us and that comes from how the body is breaking down. And what I do is I capture that smell and analyse it and then I'll use it to train these little cute guys.
So these are our cadaver detection dogs and I train them so they can find humans much better in these big mass disasters because they are at the moment one of our best tools for finding people just like Noushin I also analyze smell in a way but I'm also looking at different technology such as using drones that look for heat signals because humans when we're alive, we give off a heat signal to show that we're alive but we also give off a heat signal in death and I'm analyzing [inaudible] to look for different signals or any kind of changes in the environment that we can determine from a distance. And then once we find these individuals we need to come up with better ways to recover them and any evidence and then we need to identify them. And what I'm doing is I'm looking at our standard methods of identification such as our DNA and our fingerprint. I look at how they survive in these very unique environments because at the moment we don't really know.
But I also look at what we call secondary identifiers and these were things such as the body art so more and more people today have tattoos for examples and body piercings and sometimes we can use this to give a rough identifications of people to give them a preliminary identification. Then I look at what people have on them. Do they have any I.D.s? Do they have a driver’s license? A phone? Can we still get any kind of information from them? And then look at what people are wearing. So I imagine if this building were to collapse you're all wearing clothes these clothes can give information about you. And then lastly I look at the body itself. I look at how broken down into this can we for example still get the facial feature? Can I still see what you look like and get your identification from that and all of this research is used to get a better practice for how we deal with these mass scenarios so that we can give better training to police and any disaster recovery units so that we can get a prosecution so we can get those responsible. But more importantly so that we can get answers to families and friends of those involved. Thank you.
6 September 2018
If you’re looking for Maiken Ueland, you’ll probably find her at our secret facility, somewhere in the Blue Mountains, analysing decomposing bodies! She’s discovering different ways to determine how long someone has been dead.
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