ARC Future Fellow, Professor Shari Forbes from the University of Technology Sydney, has led the establishment of a unique Australian research facility dedicated to studying the physical, chemical, and biological proesses of human decomposition.

The Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), established through the ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme, commenced operating in 2016. It is the first of its kind in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere, drawing together a collaborative team of experts in a broad range of taphonomy disciplines.

Professor Forbes’ research is developing and enhancing chemical methods to assist police and forensic services to improve their procedures for searching, locating, recovering, and identifying missing persons, victims of homicide, and victims of disaster on both a national and international scale.

This has included research to understand the key compounds that cadaver detection dogs recognise, so that they can find the dead as quickly as possible. Professor Forbes is now focussed on identifying a complete chemical profile of human decomposition scent to further improve the accuracy of cadaver dogs to aid victim recovery in mass disaster and forensic investigations.

Professor Forbes is advancing the currently limited understanding of taphonomic processes acting on human remains in a natural Australian environment.

Image: Professor Shari Forbes and team.
Image courtesy: Anna Zhu / University of Technology Sydney.