FROST initiates human donor research with dual labs

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Kelsii Kyto

The Forensic Research Outdoor Station (FROST) lab is now fully functional and researchers have officially started human
donor research.

The current human osteology course will allow more students to be authorized to use the lab and outdoor facility, Director of FROST Jane Wankmiller said.

“It’s exciting to be in a position to have some protocols in place and to be training some of our students up,” Wankmiller said.

The forensic lab is made up of two different labs: the processing lab, which cleans off the bones by slowly cooking them, and the analysis lab, where biohazard-free skeletons are fully analyzed.

The goal is to get dental x-ray equipment to be helpful with forensic cases, she said, to better identify human remains.

During the day, researchers will check on the donors outside and document the observed changes, and they will go less frequently the more time goes on as the processes slow down, she said.

“It can be a very big difference from day to day,” Wankmiller said. “If you think about an 80 to 90-degree week with high humidity, that can make insects really active and make bacteria really active, so you could potentially see changes from morning to night.”

The most activity will be happening now, Wankmiller said, and once the skeletons are mummified, or fully dried up, there will be much less activity.

“The research is just getting kicked off,” she said.

Currently, researchers are looking at what’s attracted to remains and the quantity of what is
attracted.

FROST has been getting roughly one phone call per week for those interested in donating, Wankmiller said.
Almost anyone can donate their remains to the facility previous to their death, she added.

“The only people we really wouldn’t accept is people who are estranged,” Wankmiller said. “That brings up some ethical questions; was it something that the person would’ve wanted for themselves?”

Since next of kin can donate the remains of their family members, it has to be with their loved one’s best interest at heart, she added.

The hope is that similar to the other forensic research labs around the globe, FROST will stay open indefinitely.

“I imagine it will continue giving us inspiration for new research indefinitely, as long as student interest and university support is there.”