How Do You Hide A Dead Body?
- Host: Rose Kerr
- Guest: Dr Georgina Sauzier
**Cue music (intro theme)
Rose – Welcome to the Particle Podcast, where we talk about science and the people who just love it.
Rose – I’m Rose and I love a good murder mystery.
Today I am so excited to be joined by Dr Georgina Sauzier. She is a forensic chemist and fan of CSI. We had a chat about crime scenes, teaching and cars on roofs. Personally, I think we had great chemistry.
Georgina – Thank you very much for having me Rose.
Rose – So, to start off with, what do you actually do?
Georgina – That’s an interesting question, so I’m a lecturer at Curtin, so most of what I do is teaching and research, and my speciality is Forensic and Analytical Chemistry so trying to apply chemical techniques to crime solving.
Rose – WOW! How on earth did you end up there?
Georgina – It was an interesting journey. I think it started off when I was a kid and started watching CSI.
Rose – (laughs) That’s awesome.
Georgina – A lot of people probably say that, but in my case its genuinely how I started. I’d always been interested in science as a kid but I never really saw myself as like an inventor, which is what I thought a lot of science was. It wasn’t until I started watching CSI, that I realised hey there are other things I can do with science as a career.
Rose – That’s really cool. So, at school did you study science?
Georgina – Yeah so, I did chemistry and physics, which, allowed me to get into a Bachelor program in forensic chemistry at Curtin.
Rose – Wow.
Georgina – And things kind of went from there.
Rose – That’s so interesting, and so did you find chemistry and physics was something you were naturally drawn to? Was it difficult? Because I personally found those subjects quite difficult at school. I didn’t-I didn’t gel with them as easily. Did you find you had a kind of a natural aptitude to those subjects?
Georgina – Yes and no. Chemistry for me was something I was really fascinated with. It took a lot of work, but it did naturally click for me a little bit. Physics was a whole another story. I was terrible at physics, I still am. Fortunately, the type of stuff that I do right now, I don’t need to rely on physics too much.
Rose – I can’t believe you can do a Bachelor’s in Forensic Chemistry.
Georgina: Yeah, it’s um actually a good thing because as well as being a forensic specialist, I’m a fully qualified chemist.
Rose – Ahhh!
Georgina – Which means that I can work in either forensic chemistry or just a general chemistry lab.
Rose – Yeah.
Georgina – I’ve actually spent a bit of time working in a soil lab in Malaga, and that was based purely on my chemistry qualification.
Rose – So, it’s actually something that is very applicable to lots of different things?
Georgina – Yeah, a lot of people go, surely there aren’t that many positions for forensic chemists out there, but they forget that we’re-we’re still chemists and there is always going to be a demand for chemists to analyse things.
Rose – Are there different types of forensic chemistry? Like different areas you can specialise further into?
Georgina – Yeah you can specialise in analysing particular types of evidence, um so for example, some people specialise in doing things like, uh, textile fibres. Some specialise in looking at explosives or glass or different types of individual bits of evidence you might find at a crime scene.
Rose – Yeah, was there something, that when you were watching CSI as a kid, was there something you were like oh that’s the one that I want to do, like that’s what I reckon will be really cool to analyse.
Georgina – I was pretty greedy, and I wanted to just try a bit of everything.
Rose – (laughs) Fair enough.
Georgina – When I got around to doing my PhD, I think I w-I was looking into ink’s and explosives and fibres and anything that I saw I just went, I want to try that next.
Rose – Have you been to a crime scene?
Georgina – Uh actually, yeah. Um part of my undergrad course was to do a two week placement with the forensic police.
Rose – Wow!
Georgina – So, I was shadowing them as they went around crime scenes. Nothing too gruesome, um but things like burglaries where they had been broken into, I was following their people around as they went and investigated those scenes.
Rose – What kind of stuff were you looking for?
Georgina – For those kinds of things, its typically things like taking lots of photographs. If there’s anything that might potentially be blood or fluids, taking swabs of those and fingerprinting everything that you can find.
Rose – This is probably a very basic question, but how do you look for fingerprints? Is it like in the old movies where they’re like dusting with the bit of like powder and they are trying to find the fingerprints? How does it work now in 2020?
Georgina – So, we actually do still use fingerprint powders.
Rose – Cool
Georgina – It depends on what kind of surface you have. Finger marks are really complex, depending on where they’re there on something that’s smooth, rough, uh paper which
can absorb the finger marks a little bit. We have all of these different types of methods that we can use.
Some of them are powders, so they stick to the fingerprint and let us see them. Other times we have to use chemical treatment bars to try make the finger mark residue coloured or luminescent so that we can visualise it.
Rose – That’s so interesting. Does it feel like you are a part of NCIS when you do those things? Does it – I picture it like also like bones, the TV show as well. Does it live up to those expectations?
Georgina – Yeah it is a little – it sometimes does feel a little bit like that I’m in the lab. I actually do a finger mark demo in one of my forensic classes where I’m showing them how to use Nile blue.
Rose – Just jumping in for a second. Nile blue is that blue dye you might remember from microscope slides in high school. It can actually also be used for fingerprints on paper and fun fact, if you put the Nile blue in water, it turns to Nile red and it glows.
Georgina – And it does take me back to watching CSI and NCIS, just unfortunately we’re nowhere near as glamorous.
Rose – Less Hollywoodised I suppose.
Georgina – Yeah, I can’t afford the kind of clothes they wear on that show.
Both – (laughs)
Rose – I was going to say there is no one doing your hair and makeup before you start analysing fingerprints.
Georgina – I wish.. I’d look a lot better doing it.
Rose – (laughs) It would be pretty fun. Does it ever feel kind of scary to analyse crime scenes? Like does it ever, I don’t know, when you’re put in a scenario or you could be put in a scenario analysing like a murder or something. Does it feel weird to be so close to that?
Georgina – I haven’t had that kind of experience personally, but uh talking to some of the people who do go out to those kinds of scenes they-they have said, you have to be able to compartmentalise to a certain bit going to those kind of scenes and seeing um that kind of suffering and things that might be a little more gory. That can take a toll on you.
Rose – So, you went from doing your bachelor’s in forensic science essentially, what did you do after that?
Georgina – Uh, so I finished my Bachelor and my idea was that I wanted to either work with the forensic police or work for a forensic lab like ChemCentre. I did some work placements with both of them and found that it actually wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, so I decided to stay on and do an honours degree where I was doing research and also doing some teaching part time. And I actually found that that was what I really loved doing so I did my honours, I stayed on and did my PhD and then about 6 months after finishing that I took up a position at Curtin to do teaching and research.
Rose – That’s so cool and you were saying earlier before we started the podcast, you’ve got some really big classes. What are all your different classes, what do they range between? You’ve got some first year’s, how far along does that get?
Georgina – So, mostly I teach uh first and second year students’ um in chemistry and forensic classes which we run separately. And that can be anywhere between 10 people and well past 500.
Rose – Wow!
Georgina – Uh and I do have a few third and masters level classes as well. They’re typically a little bit smaller though.
Rose – Do you find there’s lots of people interested in doing forensic chemistry.
Georgina – We’ve definitely seen a lot more people interested in that kind of program lately. Um our first year forensic unit right now which kind of provides the basic introduction to what forensic science is all about. We have about 50 people…
Rose – Yeah.
Georgina – Who want to do that unit each year, I think because it’s so much in the mainstream now, and people are realising hey this is something that’s really cool.
Rose – Is it hard though? Like is it a difficult thing to study?
Georgina – Personally, I don’t think so, uh I think part of the really cool thing about forensic science is its not just one science, uh we use chemistry, we use biology, we use archaeology. Our cohort for that particular unit, we’ve got students from every faculty doing all kinds of different degrees and they’re at different stages of their study. So, I think that it’s something that does have a little bit for everyone, and that I think makes it really suitable to a broad range of people.
Rose – What kinds of skills do you think are beneficial aside from being good at chemistry? Like what are those things that you know maybe you’re quite good at chemistry, but you really need that other thing to make you a good forensic chemist.
Georgina – For forensic science I think that the biggest thing is having an attention to detail, and also being able to work in teams. Forensic science is all about, uh, working in a group of people, all of you doing different things and you have to combine what you know together to reach an answer. So, teamwork is absolutely critical.
Rose – Yeah, do you work in a – when you’ve worked on your projects, obviously a PhD is largely done individually, but did you find yourself working in a bigger team, as part of your project?
Georgina – yeah so, I work with the uh Curtin forensic and analytical research group. So that’s, uh, about 10 of us in that group at the moment, so we share a lot of what we are doing, and um bounce ideas off each other. And I’ve also done research working with other universities, or with ChemCentre, or, uh, sometimes the WA police and other groups that are interested in learning a bit more about something.
Rose – So, there’s way more forensic scientists out there than I realised?
Georgina – Yeah, we-it can often seem like we’re a little bit hidden, but we are all over the place.
Rose – Yeah, I for some reason had it in my head that there would only be you know a few in the state or its very like, there’s not many people that do it, but it sounds like its incorporated into more things than the average person realises.
Georgina – Yeah and especially now because its um starting to become obvious that forensic science is so multidisciplinary. Often there’s something we want to do, that we don’t have the exact expertise for, so we call in someone to help and so we have all these different groups who might not consider themselves as forensic scientists but they’re helping us to do forensic work.
Rose – What are some of the weirder things that you’ve had to analyse? Like samples?
Georgina – The immediate thing that comes to mind is condoms.
Rose – (laughs) Why were you analysing them?
Georgina – Believe me, it was for science. Uh so we had a Swiss student visiting us and her speciality was in analysing condoms, trying to work out can you tell a condom lubricant from other types of personal lubricants.
Rose – Wow!
Georgina: For uh sexual assault cases and trying to work out what’s happened there.
Rose – Yeah.
Georgina – So, uh that was interesting because we had to order samples off our corporate credit card.
Rose – Bizarre!
Georgina – And we had finance calling up going, can we just check.. is this for research, like just checking that this isn’t a, you know, a personal-personal purchase.
Rose – (laughs) When you were analysing the condoms, what were you actually doing? Like looking at the lubricant under a microscope or testing it for what’s inside, how does it work?
Georgina – Um so this is actually what our student was doing, and she was using a method called infrared spectroscopy, which is all based on how molecules vibrate. Um each molecule will vibrate in a particular way so if we can measure those vibrations, we can tell what a substance is made out of.
Rose – And, what about if your testing say, if we go super traditional NCIS sort of crime movie, something like a hair or maybe can you go down to skin cell level? Like how do you actually test some of these specimens?
Georgina – So, most of what I do is spectroscopy which is essentially a fancier word of saying we shine a light on it and see what happens. With our instruments, we have really narrow light beams so that we’re able to analyse really small quantities, like a single hair. And sometimes we use advanced instrumentation uh that can analyse even smaller things like on a cellular level. But for the most part, uh in this case we were literally rubbing these condoms onto the instrument to get some more lubricant off.
Rose – Wow!
Georgina – Which was interesting to say the least.
Rose – (laughs) Is the paper finished?
Georgina – Not quite yet, we’re still doing a little bit of final testing because whenever we do these kinds of things to work out can we tell two things apart, we want to do as much validation as possible to make sure that we’re really certain of that result before we go publishing and say hey we’ve got a fancy new method. We need to figure out, okay, what happens if we throw the most difficult samples that we can at it, does it still work?
Rose – Yeah.
Georgina – Because that’s really important if we’re going to say this is something that can be used for forensic investigations.
Rose – Yeah, well that’s the thing, is implications of these kinds of studies that places like forensic police will then adopt the practices.
Georgina – Potentially, um a lot of what we do is try to develop methods that forensic police or forensic scientists can use. But it takes a long time between us proving that something might work and showing that it can work reliably enough to trust it in court.
Rose – That so much pressure. (laughs)
Georgina – Yeah, its uh a lot of work behind the scenes. Uh we can spend years working on a method trying to get it to a point where we can say okay, we think this is ready.
Rose – Have you ever had a method become ready to go?
Georgina – We do have a couple of methods that are in trial runs at the moment, but we’re-we still got a lot of things that are in the pipeline. And also, a lot of what we do isn’t just developing new methods, it’s testing the old ones. Trying to learn more about how they work, and why.
Rose – Does it feel weird having honours and master’s students going on to do their own research and kind of thinking that you used to do that and now your supervising and helping them out. Is it weird having gone to that point in your journey, I guess?
Georgina – It makes me realise how long I’ve been hanging around this universe. Sometimes it is a bit weird.
Rose – (laughs)
Georgina – But no, it’s really cool watching um students progress from you know being an undergraduate student to starting to find their own research area and run with it. And its kind of like being a parent, and watching your toddler learn to walk. It’s always a really proud moment when you see that they’re excited about something and they’re going off and doing things that are really exciting.
Rose – Do you think that your interest in forensic science has continued to grow throughout your journey? Or do you think maybe, I don’t know, you were more excited as a kid looking at it from an outsider’s perspective? Or is it still something that gets you going, I guess?
Georgina – It’s definitely something that still gets me going, just in a different way. Um I think when I was watching CSI as a kid I was like great I’m going to be solving crimes, I’m going to be out there in the middle of it all and now I’m actually really happy that what I’m doing is research to help other people get to that stage.
Rose – Is it-was it challenging your first year of teaching?
Georgina – Yeah it was definitely something a little bit different, especially because one of the first classes I had to teach, I had about 50 people in it. At that point I really didn’t have a lot of practise with public speaking and I was terrified.
Rose – Aw, how did you overcome it?
Georgina – Honestly, largely just practise. The more I do it, the better I get at it and the more confident I get at it. But, every so often I still walk into a class that has 500 students for a lecture and I have to breathe for a couple of minutes before I can get started.
Rose – In a crime scene, what samples are people most likely to leave behind? Because if you think like in the movies its always like a hair or maybe like an eyelash, what do you think is going to be a give-away if someone goes into a crime scene?
Georgina – The things like hair, um body fluids, finger marks, they’re definitely all the common things that you tend to see but the thing with forensic evidence, it can be literally anything. I saw a thing on twitter recently where somebody’s kid found a chocolate wrapper on the couch, and went this is evidence that you’ve been eating chocolate without me.
Rose – (laughs) Aw.
Georgina – Which is really cute, but it-it shows that anything that might seem a little bit out of the ordinary can be considered forensic evidence.
Rose – Yeah, well something that I, as a good journalist, was having a bit of a read of some of the stuff that you have researched before, paint on cars?
Georgina – Yeah uh, that’s something that I’ve been working on for several years now, longer then I like to think about. Um, so we were interested in finding out, okay if a
bit of car paint is found at a crime scene like after a hit and run, can we tell what car it’s come from. So, to do that we went to a sunroof fitting company and said hey we want a bunch of different car panels, and they went okay cool, here’s about 600 of them.
Rose – Wow!
Georgina – And we started analysing all these different paints and comparing the data and working out we can actually tell different cars apart. But then we thought about it and went, okay but that’s brand new cars and we’ve all seen those older cars around where the paint is peeling and breaking down, so we needed to figure out okay what affect does that have. So, we have a set of car panels that are attached to a building roof.
Rose – (laughs)
Georgina – And have been there for about 6 years now. Uh and every so often we just go up and take a little bit of the paint and analyse it again and see what’s changed.
Rose – Great. So that’s been going for several years?
Georgina – Yeah, um we actually forgot that they were up there, so they’ve been up a bit longer than planned and then we went actually no we do want to keep this going.
Rose – Yeah well that’s the thing, I guess people do have old cars, the longer you can leave them up there the better.
Georgina – Yeah, um apparently the average car in Australia is about 10 years old so, we’d like to get to at least 10 before we decide what to do with those panels.
Rose – That’s so cool. Do you often find I don’t know if you go to like a dinner party and you meet new people and you say I’m a forensic chemist, like these are some of
the thing that I do. How do people react?
Georgina – I get all sorts of reactions. Some people go wow that must be so exciting. Some people just look at me like I don’t really know what is,
Rose – Yeah
Georgina – but I’m going to smile and nod.
Rose – Yeah
Georgina – Um it-it’s always interesting telling people what I do and there’s a lot of people who just go oh my god it must be like CSI and I have to point out, mmm it’s not quite-not quite that exciting.
Rose – (laughs) Unfortunately not, although a good point for inspiration.
Georgina – Definitely!
Rose – What do you think is some of the misconceptions of the industry?
Georgina – I think one of the biggest misconceptions about forensic science is that it gives you definite answers. People think, um especially because it’s the way its often shown on tv programs that you find a bit of evidence and you go, right this is definitely what happened we’re certain about that. With forensic science, you are never certain because you were never there. The best that we can do is say this is what might have happened, we’re reasonably certain about it, but we can never place that guarantee.
Rose – What do you wish people knew about your job or about the industry?
Georgina – That’s a tricky one. I think what I’d like to know, especially that it’s not nearly as glamorous as its always made out to be. And that, I think with teaching there’s often the misconception that we leave the classroom and we leave it all behind. Teaching and chemistry and forensic science is something that tends to follow me everywhere I go.
Rose – Do you ever have free time?
Georgina – I try to make free time as much as possible. Like, I’ll go okay Saturday night is I’m playing board games, I’m not thinking about work, I’m turning off all of my emails, all-turning my phone off. And you have to try to disconnect as much as possible or you would go insane.
Rose – Yeah, fair enough. Are you friends with lots of people in your own industry? Or do you find yourself drawn to, I don’t know, more creative people, or do you engage with largely scientists?
Georgina – Little bit of both. A lot of my friends have nothing to do with chemistry and I think part of the reason we are friends is that they give me something completely different to think about, but I also interact a lot with people who I work with or people who I’ve worked with before in the forensic science space, and it’s a pretty tightknit community. If you’re working in forensic chemistry, you know most of the other people who are working in that area as well.
Rose – When you’re doing your undergrad, obviously you’ve stayed quite focused on forensics, was there ever a point where you thought ooh maybe I’ll-maybe I’ll swap over, maybe I will follow biology instead?
Georgina – Um, For me, I had a fairly straight path in like, I always knew I wanted something to do with forensic chemistry, it was just took me a while to figure out exactly what.
Rose – This is a bit more of a fun hypothetical question, I will say it again – a hypothetical. How would you get rid of a dead body?
Georgina – Can I answer that on air? Like am I..
Rose – (laughs)
Georgina – Uh, yeah I’d probably go hydrofluoric acid.
Rose – Why?
Georgina – Uh, because its really good at breaking down things like bones. I think I’m pretty safe, its hard to get hydrofluoric acid, but personally if I was going to try get rid of a dead body, that’s the way I’d go. It’s what they did on breaking bad actually.
Rose – I mean, it’s a good reference piece.
Georgina – Oh yeah and I was actually really impressed, the way they showed the chemistry in breaking bad. It was actually pretty accurate.
Rose – That’s actually a good point. Is chemistry representation in the media largely accurate?
Georgina – It definitely depends on what kind of show it is. Often things on TV seem a lot more explosive then they really are. We also don’t spend nearly as much time looking at fancy coloured liquids or things that are glowing, I wish we did.
Rose – (laughs) Yeah.
Georgina – So, it-there’s definitely a little bit of let’s make this a bit more visually entertaining for TV.
Rose – So, does that acid, is that visible if you were going to go to a crime scene and you were looking for substrates and things, for taking samples and trying to track what had happened in a crime scene, is that something you could detect?
Georgina – Possibly, it depends on firstly uh, whether an attempts been made to clean it up. Um how much of it was. And also whether we’re just looking for it in the first place.
Rose – Yeah.
Georgina – Part of the problem, or part of the challenge when you go to a crime scene is you have no idea what to expect and you kind of have to try a whole bunch of different things and hope that one of those tests is picking up what-what was there.
Rose – Yeah, it’s like where’s Wally but you don’t know what Wally is.
Georgina – Exactly and you don’t know if Wallys even there.
Rose – What’s the strategy then? You go to a crime scene, what do you do when you’re there?
Georgina – So, typically uh once the crime scenes been blocked off so that no one can enter or leave, we’ll start off with doing a basic search, and it can be pretty challenging because your trying to spot something out of the ordinary in an area you’re not familiar with. So, generally anything that looks like it might be interesting you’ll stop, you’ll take lots of photos, you’ll collect it. And then there’s typically uh established protocols that if you have something that looks like this, you’ll run it through all these different sets of tests and see what comes out at the end and hopefully one of those tests or two of those tests will give you information that’s helpful.
Rose – And then you can kind of, yeah be a bit methodical about it and then pick from there?
Georgina – Yeah, uh a lot of forensic science is all about having a set of procedures that you follow consistently.
Rose – And do you find that, do things jump out at you? You know, like when there’s something weird at a crime scene, ah is it easy to notice, or is it kind of challenging.
Georgina – Look ah, because I don’t go to crime scenes personally, its kind of hard for me to say. I have had heard a story from the police though where they got called out to a house that had been robbed, and they walk in to one of the rooms which is an absolute mess, and they go right, okay uh you set up your camera over there we’re going to start searching from this corner. And the house owner comes up behind them and goes no no that rooms always like that. The room that-that got robbed is the one down the hallway.
Rose – (laughs) yeah okay, that is hard when you’re in a new environment all the time.
Georgina – Yeah you don’t know how things were meant to be to start with so it can be really challenging figuring out what’s actually interesting here.
Rose – Do you think you would prefer in like your future career? Do you think you would prefer to be someone out on the scene doing all that firsthand stuff, or prefer to be in the lecturing space, or in the lab? I assume there’s people who just get sent samples and…
Georgina – Yeah so, um ChemCentre for example, they’re the state provider for all forensic chemistry in WA. So, their scientists – they do sometimes get called out to scenes if they’re-they’re needed to try figure out is this somewhere that is safe to enter? But a lot of what they do is have samples sent to them for analysis. I think the lecturing hall is definitely where I feel most at home.
Rose – That’s great.
Georgina – I absolutely love teaching and I love seeing that moment on a student’s face where they’ve suddenly had something click for them.
Rose – What was that moment for you? Do you remember?
Georgina – Gosh that was a while ago!
Rose – (laughs)
Georgina – Um, honestly there was some things that as a student I never really got, and then when I had to teach it to someone else which meant I’d have to learn it, suddenly I went oh my god… why-why did I find this so hard. But I definitely, all along the way I’ve had things where I’m just really struggling to understand something and often it just took that one teacher who could put it in a slightly different way, or go, oh have you thought about it in terms of, you know, this thing that you learnt last week and suddenly a light bulb’s gone off. And that’s always a really good moment.
Rose – Is that something that you aim to do, is try to reframe information to connect with those other students who maybe didn’t understand it?
Georgina – Yeah absolutely, I mean it’s a bit ridiculous to think that all of us are going to think about things in the same way and learn the same way, so a lot of it is trying to figure out how can I talk about this in a way that makes sense to you.
Rose – Is it tricky, because I know when I was at-doing my undergrad I wasn’t always attending lectures. So, I didn’t always have an interaction with the lecturer. Is it hard to figure out whether or not people are understanding the work, in those larger classes?
Georgina – It definitely can be tricky when you’re not interacting with people directly, so because of that I like to try put as much interactive activities into my lectures as possible. And I always try to tell my students, if you have any questions whatsoever there is nothing that is too stupid to ask, I want you to ask me anything and everything that you can think about.
Rose – Do you have a favourite question you’ve been asked? Or one that made you go like ooh I would have never expected to be asked that?
Georgina – Every so often someone asks me just a general question that isn’t necessarily related to like what I was just talking about, but its just a general thing they want to know. Um someone once asked me, what’s in a black hole and that admittedly threw me, I had to go away and think about that for a while.
Rose – Did you answer them?
Georgina – I think I did, I don’t remember what the answer was.
Rose – Good for you!
Georgina – So, if you ask me again, I have no idea but I can find out.
Rose – I like that you went to the effort of going and finding out the answer.
Georgina – I always figure, you know what if someone has had it in them to come up and ask me that question yeah, I can go and try find an answer for them.
Rose – That’s good, I like that. Maybe that’s why forensic chemistry and forensic science is a good fit if your someone who likes finding out the answers and likes following a mystery, maybe that’s part of it.
Georgina – Yeah definitely, every second question that comes out of my mouth is probably why? And that’s definitely something that drew me to not just forensic science but science in general. It’s something that had the answers.
Rose – Yeah, and you get to constantly find out more, I guess.
Georgina – Yeah, every time I’m doing an experiment, I’m essentially asking a question and then trying to work out the answer.
Rose – And those roof tops of cars that keep providing answers for so many years.
Georgina – Yeah, we are definitely getting our mileage out of those.
Rose – That’s good, do you think you’ll keep going with forensic chemistry and with forensic science for the rest of your career?
Georgina – Its kind of hard to say, like at the moment its definitely something that is still my passion and I see myself doing this you know well into the future, but you never know when things can change. I know a lot of other people who have decided part way through that they want to try something a little bit different and I’ve always admired those people who can go hey I’m-I’m going to try something completely new, and just see where it takes me.
Rose – Yeah, and I guess those scientific skills are applicable in other areas, not even just other sciences.
Georgina – Yeah definitely, a lot of the skills that we try to work on in our science courses are things that apply to any kind of discipline.
Rose – Now, this is my favourite part of the podcast, which is when I get to ask you for a fun fact.
Georgina – I love fun facts!
Rose – Oh, well if you’ve got more than one, your welcome to give us more than one. But, I have asked you to prepare a fun fact, would you like to present it?
Georgina – So, my fun fact, most of us are familiar with the idea that all of us have fingerprints and they’re pretty unique but what some people might not know is we’re not the only creatures that have them. Um, a lot of apes like chimpanzees have finger marks which you’d expect because they’re closely related to us. Uh, but certain monkeys even have finger marks on their tail, so I guess that makes them tail marks.
Rose – Wow! Yeah!
Georgina – And koalas, which is really interesting.
Rose – Aw that’s really sweet. Do they look similar to ours, in we have the whirls and the arches and things? Is it similar?
Georgina – Yeah, and they’ve actually looked at koala finger marks and human finger marks under a microscope and they’re really similar, which is interesting because we don’t think of ourselves as being particularly rel-closely related to koalas and yet they have the same kind of finger mark patterns as we do.
Rose – Does that mean you could frame a koala for a crime?
Georgina – Possibly? I don’t know whether it’s happened but uh they’re pretty similar so if you didn’t know that you’re potentially looking at a koala, its not outside the realm of possibility.
Rose – That’s so great.
Georgina – I guess the challenging thing would be trying to get a koala to sit still long enough for you to take their finger marks in the first place.
Rose – Yeah, to carry one around and put his little paws on everything (laughs).
Georgina – That could-that could be interesting. If I ever hear of a case of like koala fingerprints being found at a crime scene, I’m definitely going to let you know.
Rose – Yeah, you’ll probably know that it was us (laughs) because we’ve just asked about it. And with that in mind, how-do you know how they did the research? Who was
making fingerprints of koalas, like, how would that of even been studied?
Georgina – Uh I think that they were working with one of those koala rescue organisations and the zoo and apparently the-the monkeys were quite happy just having their fingerprints taken. And I don’t know how they managed it with the koalas, they possibly gave them some eucalyptus leaves to eat while they were busy doing it. But yeah, they went around and collected fingerprints from a whole bunch of koalas and monkeys and other animals, and then compared them to human ones and went these are actually really, really similar.
Rose – What is the reason behind finger marks looking the way that they do?
Georgina – To be honest, we’re not entirely sure, we know that we’re born with them. We know that they’re formed in the womb before we’re born but we’re not entirely sure
how or why. There’s some speculation that maybe they help us to grip things but more recently there’s been other studies showing that okay maybe they’re to stop us from developing blisters as we manually handle objects.
Rose – Oh, never thought of that.
Georgina – It’s interesting, it’s one of the ongoing debates in forensic science. Why do we have finger marks? We just don’t know yet.
Rose – I love that, how science can have such a basic question that some how might never get answered properly. Well thank you for joining us today.
Georgina – Thank you very much for having me, this was fun.
Rose – Thank you for listening to the Particle podcast. You can check out more of our content on all of the social’s as well as at Particle dot Scitech dot org dot au. This episode was recorded as always in the wonderful science hub that is Western Australia, and we are proudly powered by Scitech.