Online forensics lesson helps students estimate time since death

NCSSM students who study forensic science, may participate in crime scenes labs, where they identify remains such as bones.

Studying the manner in which dead bodies decay may sound gruesome, but to forensic scientists, it’s extremely important to estimating time since death. This estimate of time since death is known as the postmortem interval, and it can be a difficult concept to teach. It involves fairly complex mathematical equations and an understanding not only of decomposition but also of environmental factors and insect behavior or entomology.

To better study how decomposition affects bodies, many forensic students, such as those at North Carolina State University, study decay on pigs, which show similar decay as humans. NCSSM Forensic Science Instructor Candice Chambers realized suggesting a real-life decay lab might be considered a bit extreme by parents and administrators, and traveling to a local university to study rotting pigs is not exactly field trip material for most high school students. So, Chambers turned to NCSSM’s creative services team to create an online unit that not only explains what is involved in estimating postmortem interval, but provides students the opportunity to participate in a virtual decay lab, animated rotting pig included.

Chambers and several guest lecturers recorded videos covering forensic entomology, rates of decay and mathematical equations used to estimate time since death. These videos were then combined with worksheets, quizzes, activities, and the virtual lab.  The material can be used by anyone who wants to better explain postmortem interval in their forensic science course.

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