Arts & Entertainment

Sydney Science Festival

Not really into science? Then you probably wouldn’t be interested in a botanics distillery; or how your brain processes fake news; or getting tips on photographing the night sky; or knowing how to get away with murder; or any of the broad and intriguing range of talks, workshops and exhibitions on offer (mostly free) during this year’s Sydney Science Festival.

“What we want to do is show people that science is something that you use everyday of your life and that it can be fun,” says Professor Shari Forbes, world-renowned forensic scientist and Ambassador for the festival.

As well as helping to promote the festival, Prof. Forbes will be giving a talk on her specialty field – the study of decomposition of human bodies.

It may sound morbid, but Cracking The World Of Forensics is a remarkable insight into forensic science given in an entertaining, easy to understand presentation.

There will be lots of images and intricate detail, but it won’t be too graphic – or “not too CSI,” as Prof. Forbes puts it – just utterly fascinating.

Bodies are donated (with full knowledge and consent from families) to a “body farm.”

“It’s what we call an outdoor laboratory but it is just a natural bushland environment typical of Sydney,” explains Prof. Forbes.

They may be left on the ground surface to mimic an unfortunate bushwalker or buried in a shallow grave to imitate a homicide. Then they are observed to see what happens. Prof. Forbes also works with cadaver dogs to understand how they locate human remains.

“I came to forensics because at high school I loved science and I wanted to study science that had a clear application,” Prof Forbes says of her unusual career choice. At university “there was a project listed to study why bodies were not decomposing in a cemetery in Sydney…nobody else picked that except for me because I thought it was just fascinating – it was a real puzzle and that’s what forensic science is about.”

It ultimately led to her becoming a recognised and frequently called upon forensic investigator.

During her talks she invites questions from the audience which invariably include common urban myths: Is it true that the body can grow hair or that the nails keep growing after death? Does your body decompose if you’re on antibiotics when you die? Does eating McDonalds preserve your body?

Among her many discoveries, one in particular stands out:

“I discovered why those bodies [in the cemetery] weren’t decomposing…”

Sydney Science Festival. Aug 8-20. Info: 

Cracking The World Of Forensics.  Aug 11. 6:30-8:30pm. $8-$32.

By Rita Bratovich.

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