Forensic Science Research Seminars

Monthly research seminars organised by Northumbria University Forensic Science Research Group

The research seminar series takes place live via Zoom and features cutting edge research from some of the worlds leading forensic scientists and research active practitioners. Recordings can be found on our Youtube channel.

Please contact Aaron Amankwaa ( or Matteo Gallidabino ( for further details and information of how to attend. 


The 2021/22 series is pleased to present:

Thursday 2nd December 2021 at 17:00 GMT

Dr Max Houck - Categorize, Compare, Source: Core Concepts in Forensic Science 

This presentation breaks down the process of comparison, the core method paradigm in forensic science, to better understand how it works. Comparison is a process of analogy, mapping traits between a source and a target ("the evidence") to communicate whether they have any relationships in common. Evidence is unintentional: Everyday items become evidence and gain meaningfulness from their forensic interactions. Design and manufacturing decisions (supply chain) for manufactured items result in traits that are used to classify materials and products. Forensic science further refines these categories for its own purposes. Salience, systematicity, and structural consistency are required to conduct a comparison. Because of these factors, inferences from evidence can only be probabilistic in nature.  

An award-winning international expert in the forensic sciences, Dr. Max M. Houck has nearly 30 years of expertise in casework, research, management, and writing. His casework includes the Branch Davidian Investigation, the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon, the D.B. Cooper case, and the West Memphis Three, among hundreds of others including his casework at the FBI Laboratory. He has managed tens of millions of dollars in grants and his committee work includes the White House, the National Academies of Science, the Royal Society, and Interpol. Dr. Houck is one of the most published professionals in his field. He is Editor-in-Chief of Forensic Science International: Synergy, the first Gold Open Access journal in the discipline. Dr. Houck is also Editor-in-Chief of the third edition of The Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences. Dr. Houck is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a full member of Sigma Xi, and a retired member of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Dr. Houck has appeared on Forensic Files, National Geographic, and History Channel. He is currently the Forensic Portfolio Innovator at the Global Forensic and Justice Center at Florida International University.


Thursday 27th January 2022 at 17:00 GMT

Professor Shari Forbes - Bodies of Knowledge: The Importance of Human Taphonomy Facilities to Forensic Science

Taphonomy is the study of the processes that impact an organism from the time of death to the time of recovery. Research in the field of forensic taphonomy aims to understand the physical, chemical, and biological processes of soft and hard tissue decomposition. Decomposition is inherently impacted by the surrounding environment including, the climate, geology and ecology. Until recently, the only facilities that conducted human decomposition research were based in the USA and much of their data could not be extrapolated to other parts of the world due to different environmental variables. A greater understanding of the decomposition process in local environments is necessary to assist investigators search for, locate, recover, and identify victim remains.

This presentation will contrast the opening of two human taphonomy facilities in distinctly different environments, namely Australia and Canada, and highlight the challenges of each. Ongoing research at both taphonomic facilities intends to provide guidelines for establishing future sites on a global scale. The presentation will provide an overview of the need for these facilities elsewhere in Canada and the world, the research and training being conducted, as well as examples of how they benefit the scientific and law enforcement community. 

Professor Shari Forbes holds a Canada 150 Research Chair in Forensic Thanatology at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR). She is the Director of the UQTR facility for Research in Experimental and Social Thanatology (REST), the first human decomposition facility to open in Canada. She was formerly an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. She established and directed the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), the first human decomposition facility in Australia. Prof. Forbes’ research investigates the chemical processes that occur in soft tissue decomposition.


Thursday 24th February 2022 at 17:00 GMT

Professor Christophe Champod - Implementation of algorithms in pattern and impression evidence

In recent years, pattern and impression disciplines (e.g., fingerprints, firearms, footwear marks, toolmarks) have been under scrutiny by multiple scientific bodies, mainly in the United States of America. One of the well-identified risks is the dependence on the professional judgement of the examiners. Indeed, most of the decision making in these specialties relies on the training and experience of the forensic practitioners. Recent algorithmic developments allow to assist examiners during the analysis, the comparison stage or even the verification stage. This interaction between examiners and algorithms is not trivial and requires a change management strategy. This presentation will present and discuss the algorithmic tools available to measure the quality and the selectivity of fingermarks (both in analysis and comparison) and explore the challenges towards their implementation in practice. The importance of culture, training and procedures will be stressed. It is not suggested that algorithms will replace examiners in their tasks, they will assist or support them. However, “the rules of engagement” should be clearly defined and be part of a quality management system.

Prof Christophe Champod received his M.Sc. and Ph.D. (summa cum laude) both in Forensic Science, from the University of Lausanne, in 1990 and 1995 respectively. From 1999 to 2003, he led the Interpretation Research Group of the Forensic Science Service (UK), before taking a full professorship position at the School of Criminal Justice (ESC) of the University of Lausanne. He is the Director of the ESC, teach and research on identification methods. The research carried out by his group is mainly devoted to the inferential aspects associated with forensic identification techniques. He also maintains an activity as an expert witness in areas of marks and biological evidence interpretation.