Christmas Lectures 2022: Lecture 1/3 – Forensic science with Sue Black

Discover the secrets of forensic science as Professor Dame Sue Black tells the story of a 1,000 year old skeleton, in the first of the Royal Institution's annual Christmas lectures for 2022.


Discover the secrets of forensic science as Professor Dame Sue Black tells the story of a 1,000 year old skeleton, in the first of the Royal Institution's annual Christmas lectures for 2022.

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Professor Dame Sue Black DBE is a forensic anthropologist, anatomist and academic and is currently the President of St John’s College Oxford, and Visiting Professor of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University, having previously been Pro-Vice Chancellor at Lancaster University.

She attended the University of Aberdeen where she graduated with a BSc degree with honours in human anatomy in 1982, and a PhD degree for her thesis on 'Identification from the Human Skeleton' in 1986.

Having been a lecturer in Anatomy at St Thomas' Hospital between 1987 and 1992, Sue then spent a decade working for the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the United Nations, on the identification of victims and perpetrators of various conflicts. In 1999 she became the lead forensic anthropologist to the British Forensic Team in Kosovo and in 2003 she undertook two tours to Iraq. In 2005 Sue participated in the United Kingdom's contribution to the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification operation as part of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami international response.

Sue has been an innovator in developing techniques and building databases to confirm or disconfirm someone's identify identity based on photographs of their hands or arms. This technique has become important in prosecution cases where the accused have taken photographs of their actions. In 2009, Sue used vein pattern analysis to confirm the identify of a suspect; the first time that the technique was used in a criminal conviction.

As an author, Sue has published numerous works including her latest book, ‘Written in bone: Hidden stories in what we leave behind’. She was a founder of The British Association for Human Identification and The British Association for Forensic Anthropology; has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, The Royal Anthropological Institute and The British Academy; and is life-time Professor of Anatomy for the Royal Scottish Academy.

Sue is married with three children and features in a larger-than-life portrait by Ken Currie titled Unknown Man which hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, while crime writer Val McDermid used Sue as inspiration for a character in her book ‘The skeleton road’.


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