SOURCE: Sam Houston State University

November 18, 2009 10:12 ET

Forensic Scientists Seek Answers, Solutions at Sam Houston State University Facility

HUNTSVILLE, TX--(Marketwire - November 18, 2009) - After sheriff's deputies discovered human bones scattered around private property in Houston County recently, they turned to the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility for help.

Joan Bytheway, a forensic anthropologist and director of the facility, along with volunteers from Sam Houston State University helped officers search for and recover the remains.

Death is a daunting topic for most people, but for Bytheway, her fellow scientists, investigators and students, it is the topic they live and breathe everyday.

"We're here to expand our knowledge of forensic sciences and to answer difficult questions. The answers are important to families, to society, to science and to justice," said Bytheway, who is also a professor in the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State.

The facility is a project of Sam Houston State and one of only four in the United States.

The Southeast Texas facility is in a secluded piney woods forest. It comprises a new building that, inside, would pass for a typical medical examiner's office and autopsy suite.

"For anthropologists, research that leads to scientifically accepted methods for determining biological identification has previously been conducted on skeletal collections that are more than 100 years old," said Bytheway.

"We need contemporary remains so that we can make better comparisons and be more accurate in our analyses."

The facility also includes a secure and well-fenced outdoor facility with clearly marked plots in which scientists and graduate students conduct experiments using donated cadavers.

Bytheway emphasized that the Sam Houston State facility is used to teach professional forensic analysts and police authorities to properly process crime scenes, identify victims and process clues and evidence as to time and nature of death, but it also supports applied research.

"We currently have half a dozen experiments underway related to decomposition, including an entomological experiment that has already yielded publishable results that can be used as a basis for scientific testimony in court and help establish a more accurate estimate as to time since death specific to the climate of southeast Texas."

A crime scene police photographer from Houston is conducting an experiment that will help determine whether infrared photography can more effectively capture pictures of tattoos and other body markings over a longer period of time than conventional photography.

A graduate student is collecting data on the effects of scavengers.

Professional scientists and investigators can inquire about and submit a research proposal by contacting Bytheway at

By completing CSI courses offered by STAFS and the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, also headquartered at Sam Houston State, law officers can become certified by the International Association for Identification (IAI) as Crime Scene Investigators and Analysts.

Bytheway said the facility is receiving a steady stream of cadaver donors which will enable an expanded schedule of instruction and research. For more info about the facility go to

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