Earlier this year, we reported that the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) was launching Australia's first 'body farm' - or more accurately, decomposition lab - to help scientists and police better understand what happens after a human dies.

The information will help police identify time of death more precisely, as well as allow them to better train dogs to sniff out human remains and survivors of natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Known as the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), it's the only facility in the Southern Hemisphere that will allow scientists to investigate human taphonomy - which is the study of organic remains from the time of death to the time of discovery.

Similar body farms exist in the US - like this one in Texas that we showed you a tour of last year - but given the unique conditions in Australia, it's important for police to understand exactly how bodies break down in the local environment.

Led by Shari Forbes, a world-leading expert in forensic science, UTS Science scientists are experimenting with pig cadavers. But now more than 30 people have announced that they'll be donating their bodies to the lab after death, and the university has announced they may begin work on around six human specimens as early as next year.

While it might sound pretty gruesome, the rewards of the research are definitely worth it - even if they can save just one life, as Ben Feszczuk, a retired police commander who lives near the body farm northwest of Sydney, told Julie Power over at The Sydney Morning Herald.

"I am an old homicide investigator, and all that stuff that comes out of this work adds to the knowledge and the database of different things about decomposition," he said. "It can help solve crime, there are a myriad of things we look at to determine the last movements of the deceased, and it is critical to lock in death to a particular time."

AFTER will also be looking into how fibres, such as clothing, break down when left in the elements, and will attempt to identify for the first time the 'scent of death', which could be used to train police sniffer dogs to better hunt out both living and dead victims of crime and natural disasters.

Once UTS Science has its first human bodies, the researchers will bury them in shallow graves and study in great detail what happens next, and how local insect activity breaks down the body. Each cadaver will be covered with a grate to prevent animal scavengers from getting to the body, and all remains will be returned to their family after the research for burial or cremation. 

"This type of research is conducted with the utmost respect for the donor and compassion for the families involved, recognising the invaluable contribution they are making to society," said Forbes.

She also insisted that the facility - which is set on 48-hectares in an undisclosed location - is incredibly secure and private, with a high security fence and constant CCTV monitoring. The police and scientists who will work at AFTER are also trained in dealing with human cadavers.

"The scientists and police involved in this research are confronted by death on a regular basis and understand the moral and ethical significance of working with human cadavers, just like doctors and medical students," said Forbes.

We're looking forward to seeing the research that comes out of the facility, and hopefully seeing it used to save lives and solve crimes. And while the UTS body farm may be incredibly private, you can get a close-up view into this one in Texas. Warning, this is probably best viewed while not having lunch:

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