This is the transcript for the video Out in the field with Dr Ueland

I’m Maiken Ueland and I’m the Deputy Director of the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research, better known as AFTER. And today I’m going to show you some of the research that I do out here, so follow me.

A large portion of my research is looking at how we can better develop methods to detect victims in mass disasters. And the way we do this is we actually simulate disaster scenarios. And that can only be done at specialist facilities like AFTER because of the ethical and legal restrictions with using humans for taphonomic research, which is what we’re doing here and what we’re doing in this area that we’re standing in right now is, this where we simulate our disasters. So behind me, there’s a series of rubble and that’s what we use in our mass disaster simulations. The simulations we’ve done so far have focused majorly on looking at what happens when a building collapses. So when there’s been a large structure and there’s been an earthquake or there’s been some type of explosion, and that’s caused a building to collapse on top of a number of individuals and we’ve had a look at how do we better find these individuals, and then this year we also added an extra element of a vehicle explosion. So that’s why we have this less than stellar looking car behind me as well. So we also had victims that were inside the car that were a part of our scenario. So we do a bunch of different scenarios because we know there’s not just going to be one type of mass disaster. There’s actually a variety of different mass disaster scenarios that you can encounter. And we use this unique facility to not only do research but also to do training opportunities for law enforcement across all of Australia.

During the simulated mass disasters, I collect the smell that comes off the disaster area as a mean to find victims. And this smell is a result of the victim’s bodies that are breaking down and releasing gas. And to do that, I use specialised tubes that are hanging over the disaster area. And these tubes can trap the odour and allows me to bring it back to the lab where I can further analyse it. Once I have the scent from the field trapped into my specialised tube, I bring them back to the lab and the first thing I have to do here is to add an internal standard. And we do this using an electronic pipette. The reason why we use an electronic pipette is that we want to make sure that we reduce human error when we’re injecting our internal standard. We are now ready to place a tube into our thermal desorption unit. This unit will use heat to transfer the sample in the tube into our instrument. And we’re using comprehensive, two dimensional gas chromatography time of flight mass spectrometry or GC GC-ToF-MS for short. This instrument allows us to separate the complex mixture that a smell is, into its simpler chemical compounds. And this is important as it will tell us what the smell from the field is made up of. We use this information to better train, scent-detection canines so they can do their job more efficiently and also to find biomarkers for the development of electronic noses. And this is all so we can be a lot better at locating victims of mass disasters and ultimately providing answers to families and loved ones that are anxiously waiting.