Our ongoing development of a 'Human Identification Package' (HIP) for specific application within Western Australian forensic casework and Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) involves the formulation of population-specific anthropological standards; for example, developing novel and validating existing, methods for the estimation of age, sex, stature and ancestry based on skeletal morphology. The latter includes methods based on the virtual analyses of skeletal form (e.g., based on medical imaging) and quantitative morphometrics (e.g., geometric morphometrics and three-dimensional statistical analyses) applied to supplement traditional anthropological approached towards the analysis of human skeletal remains. We have a variety of honours, master and PhD projects available that relate to this particular aspect of forensic investigation broadly and forensic anthropology specifically. Skeletal Trauma: Concurrent to the formulation of the biological profile (see above) the anthropologist is frequently tasked to provide an opinion on skeletal trauma and pathology. There is an ongoing need for empirical research that facilitates the accurate determination and interpretation of the main classes of skeletal trauma; sharp force, blunt force, thermal and projectile wounds. A current project involves the determining if blade type can be ascertained based on the macro- microscopic analysis of the resultant trauma. Further avenues of potentially interesting research would quantify the effect of thermal trauma on the ability to determine the latter class characteristics.
Employing DNA extracted from bone and tooth samples to trace ancestry, species, sexing subadults, and personal identification; methods such as PCR and direct sequencing are used to target mitochondrial and nucleic DNA from a sample. Technical projects related to bone diagenesis and material preparation and sampling, and anthropological projects related to commingling, species and ancestry tracing, and pathogen identification may be provided students with the appropriate scientific background. In bone fragments lacking species-specific macroscopic surface features or radiographic specifics, a histological evaluation is required. Visual and quantifiable metric analyses can discern pattern differences in the microscopic arrangement of human and non-human bone; there is considerable scope for further geographic-specific research in this area.
The field of forensic odontology encompasses the use of rugae, lip prints and facial superimposition in the identification process; aging of living and deceased individuals; comparison of ante-mortem and post-mortem dentition in disaster victim identification; and bite mark analysis. The maxilla and mandible are considered to be useful bones for estimating sex, age and ethnicity in an individual. Various research projects are available in this area for a suitable candidate(s).
Ultra-near surface geophysical prospection is used for search and recovery of buried objects in recent and ‘cold case’ criminal investigations. There is an ongoing need for a reference databank for geophysical signatures of various objects in various soil types within Western Australia.
Forensic entomology is the study and use of insect evidence in the context of legal proceedings. Human remains represent a new transient habitat and feeding resource to a variety of insects which quickly arrive to colonise a body. Blowflies in particular can arrive within minutes of death, using a combination of visual and odour based cues to locate suitable sites for the development of their offspring. Forensic entomologists can determine the age of immature insects collected off a body and this information can indicate the time since death of the victim. Research interests in my lab focus on the validation, accuracy and improvement of entomological estimates of time since death. This encompasses research that advances our understanding of carrion breeding insect biology, behaviour, physiology, genetics and ecology.
Project topics can include:
Essential qualifications: Applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Honours Entry – an undergraduate degree with a minimum weighted average of 65% in level 3 subjects from an approved institution is required. A passion for understanding and addressing issues of justice, basic computer and statistics skills, and an ability to work independently are all desirable.
Master and PhD Entry – please contact A/Prof. Franklin directly to discuss postgraduate research and/or coursework admission requirements.