Student finds career at ‘Body Farm’

Anna Anderson

Julie Scott calls herself a perpetual student.

“I’ve been in school since 2005, and I can’t get enough of it,” the 26-year-old from Morgantown said.

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in geology, Scott took a lab management job in the Physics and Astronomy Department and began working on a graduate degree in homeland security.

She said she was interested in the program initially, but wasn’t sure what she was going to do in the future.

That changed after reading a book by William Bass, an anthropologist who founded the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility — otherwise known as the “Body Farm.”

“He was wanting a place to study decomposition,” Scott said.

Finding out about the Body Farm and meeting William Bass himself changed her career path. She now wants to pursue forensic anthropology.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I’m meant to do,’” Scott said.

However, she wasn’t sure if she could handle being around dead bodies all day. Bass recommended she take a class at the Body Farm over the summer, and that’s exactly what she did.

Scott said she had some trepidation about taking the course, especially what she would see and smell.

“I was just expecting this waste — this plume of decomp to hit me,” Scott said.

But she realized it wasn’t that bad. Scott said she had been around port-a-potties that had a worse odor.

As a child, she grew up being unafraid of blood or body parts. Her father was a biology teacher and would take her hunting. By looking at remains subjectively, Scott said she is able to look at remains as a learning experience.

Scott arrived at the University of Tennessee on May 28, 2012, and stayed for the next week to learn how to deal with remains found in shallow graves.

First, Scott and her classmates scouted out the area. Then, they mapped the terrain. After sifting through the first centimeter of soil, they catalogued their findings and went down another centimeter.

Bit by bit, they dug until they had examined all the bones.

Once the course was over, Scott said she didn’t want to leave. She ended up staying the weekend in Knoxville, Tenn., and made trips back there later in the summer.

This semester, she is trying to figure out how to make her studies about homeland security apply to her plans in anthropology.

“I’m the crazy bone lady in the physics department,” she said.

Scott is currently studying with her graduate advisor Edward Kintzel, an assistant professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department and the director of the WKU Nova Center.

The duo is developing a way to use scanning electronic microscopy to study the gunshot residue left on clothing after a gun is fired. Kintzel said this research is a good blend of homeland security and forensic anthropology.

“It gives her another tool in her toolbox,” he said.