In a scientific era where niche specialization is common, it is wonderfully refreshing to see multidisciplinary research projects and opportunities. Two things are particularly appealing about the INTREPID Forensics programme: the collaborative approach unifying different disciplines, and the clearly-defined, direct applications of the projects. Such multidisciplinary endeavours require an open mind and the ability to coordinate several research activities simultaneously. As I continue my academic journey, I find myself balancing between the fields of forensic science, engineering, pathology, and anthropology.
In a previous post I explained my PhD project which has direct implications for counter-terrorism efforts by utilizing research from engineering and pathology. This month, while keeping up with my PhD research and INTREPID Forensics training (which involved setting fire to a room – see photos below), I also returned to my anthropology roots by conducting osteological analyses, teaching an osteology practical, and revising my four anthropology-related research papers from last year in the hopes of publishing.
The fire investigation in which we partook is an excellent example of a multifaceted approach to forensic work. DNA can be recoverable from a fire scene, as Marwan took full advantage of for his research. DNA can be extremely useful for identifying victims as well as potential suspects present at the scene of a suspicious fire. In addition to the involvement of a forensic biologist, fire scenes can also include the expertise of a forensic anthropologist, a fact I was reminded of as I suited up in Tyvek (thankfully, it wasn’t sweltering hot like some of the other times I’ve had to work crime scenes). In circumstances where victims are involved, a forensic anthropologist can recognize, identify, and recover human remains from a fire scene. Of course, this also means that a forensic pathologist will be included in the investigation. All of these efforts are coordinated with arson specialists, crime scene technicians, and police.
Before and after photos of the INTREPID team at the fire scene.
Alex and I suited up in Tyvek, ready to process the scene.
My two supervisors, Professor Sarah Hainsworth and Professor Guy Rutty, often work together on forensic cases. As their PhD student, I am privileged to witness first-hand how engineering and pathology complement each other in forensic investigations. This is another reminder that collaboration in different fields brings together different viewpoints in a constructive manner. I am therefore happy to report that I too am involved in 3 other collaborations with INTREPID members Alex, Marwan, and Etienne. More details will follow in consequent posts as we are still in the preliminary stages. Nevertheless, as all 3 projects center around my engineering project involving IED’s, I am kept quite busy juggling and incorporating the requirements of each project into my own such that we can all get the data we need.
This month, I have also started volunteering in the Bone Lab. I work by myself processing human skeletal remains from an 18th-19th century cemetery. As I have been doing work with the archaeology department, I was also involved with the Distance Learning students through assisting and teaching human osteology. My ongoing experiences with the archaeology department is immensely useful as I can continue to draw upon my forensic anthropology background, which complements the pathology aspect of my PhD project quite nicely. It also gives me the occasional opportunity to teach, something that I am passionate about and enjoy doing.
In the bone lab, alongside skull casts demonstrating craniofacial variation in humans.
Forensic science is multidisciplinary, where specialists in different fields converge to find answers. The potential for collaborations is immense, and it is exciting to work with people, each with their own diverse perspectives and academic backgrounds. It is easy to get caught up with research ideas and the desire to work on several different projects all at once. The key is to balance the workload. While I love being involved in numerous projects with various applications, I often have to remind myself to take a step back and look at where I am going overall. Prioritization and planning are pivotal to successfully completing simultaneous projects, and one must do so with a clear mind instead of rushing in capriciously. Stillness is therefore often necessary – with stillness comes clarity, and with stillness there is also balance.
“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” – Deepak Chopra.