University to open first forensic 'body farm' in Wales
Forensic scientists at Glyndŵr University have created a ‘body farm’ to explore the ways in which animal remains decompose.
Led by Dr Chris Rogers, students on the BSc (Hons) Forensic Science course will monitor corpses and measure how they decay in different settings and temperatures.
The taphonomic facility will be the first of its kind in Wales.
Dr Rogers said it will provide the university - which has campuses in Wrexham, Northop, St Asaph and London – with ground-breaking research that could provide value to organisations, including the police and embalmers.
The group will be using pig carcasses but their findings will be comparable with those of human remains.
The bodies are placed in a variety of areas; some will be buried in shallow graves, inside bags or hung up, and then left to rot while being monitored for decay.
The researchers then let nature takes its course, gathering vital clues from insects, the decaying bones and odours.
Approved by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the site – a remote and secure area of woodland away from public access - will be operable all-year round.
Dr Rogers said: “There are body farms in America but in the UK it is illegal to use human remains, so we are using pigs and smaller animals which are an acceptable substitute.
“The animals will decompose at different rates, depending on how they are stored, the weather, insect activity and other elements.
“The findings will provide myself and the students with vital research that will be of value and interest to external organisations.”
He is also confident the facility will attract prospective students to take on the programme, which has been made popular by TV dramas such as CSI and Bones, with people keen to find out more about the subject and enter into a career in forensics, which includes DNA analysis and biology.
“This will be a big selling point for Forensic Science at Glyndŵr University as I believe this is the only taphonomic facility of its kind in Wales, and one of only a handful in the UK,” said Dr Rogers, from Hampshire.
“We use pigs because we know they are of a similar size, what they will have eaten and that their DNA is all pretty similar, unlike humans, so a lot of the difference will be in where they are placed and the weather.”
He added: “Forensic Science has become very appealing, and that is largely down to the television shows in the US.
“People have been looking at taphonomy for 20 or 30 years but new information is always being discovered and published, which is our ultimate aim.
“We would be looking to determine new ways of estimating how long someone or something has been dead, which becomes more and more difficult to measure the longer the decomposition period goes on.
“We will get a lot of academic value from this and it will be hugely interesting for the students to be involved in such a fascinating study.”
For more information, visit http://www.glyndwr.ac.uk/en/Undergraduatecourses/ForensicScience