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'Dirty Jobs' Delves into Purdue Forensic Education

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Imagine picking through a 55-gallon trash can to look for maggots and other insects on a decaying pig that has been there for two months. It’s that dirty job that attracted producers of the television show by the same name to Purdue University.

| December 1, 2010

"Dirty Jobs" producer Dave Barsky used his shirt to block the stench from a trash bin when he and other show crew members were on the Purdue campus in July to prepare for filming. Holding open the bin's top is entomology professor Ralph Williams, head of Purdue's forensic entomology team. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell) WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Imagine picking through a 55-gallon trash can to look for maggots and other insects on a decaying pig that has been there for two months.

Not a pretty sight – or smell. But that is similar to what forensic investigators often do to help solve murders.

It’s that dirty job that attracted producers of the television show by the same name to Purdue University. The Purdue forensic entomology team’s study of insects on decomposing pig carcasses was featured on "Dirty Jobs" on Nov. 28 on the Discovery Channel. The episode is titled "Bug Detective." (Click here to see when the episode will repeat.)

Insects are important to murder investigations because they are a natural part of decomposition of animals, including humans, said entomology professor Ralph Williams, who heads DECOMP, an acronym for Discovering Entomology and Criminalists Over Many Projects. Investigators can determine how long insects have been on a corpse by how far they are developed.

"It can really help in determining how long a person has been dead," he said.

The host of "Dirty Jobs," Mike Rowe, and a production crew visited Purdue in July and followed Williams’ graduate students as they stopped at several sites where they had deposited dead pigs, including one in a 55-gallon trash can, one in a larger trash bin and one on the ground to simulate where murder victims often are found. One was wrapped in a tarp, a common way for criminals to hide bodies.

The team selected pigs that had been dead for as little as a week to as long as two months to show the varying degrees of insect development. The team used only pigs that had died of natural causes or had a fatal condition and had to destroyed, Williams said.

"Dirty Jobs" producers were interested in how Purdue entomologists use forensics in education.

"They really liked the educational value of what we have," Williams said. "Forensic education is a unique profession."

To see video from the episode, click here.
 

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