A new forensic "body farm" is finally in the works in the state of Florida -- just the seventh human decomposition research program in the United States. The state-of-the-art facility will include body donation, but will also serve as a training ground for K9, ballistics and remote sensing, among other cutting-edge forensic techniques.

Announced in a press conference yesterday by Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, the new facility will be located just north of Tampa, Florida, and is known as FIRST -- the Florida Forensic Institute for Research, Security and Tactical Training. It already has strong support from the county Board of Commissioners, from Pasco-Hernando State College and from the Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences, which is headed by forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida.

Kimmerle is a real-life Temperance Brennan -- she and her team at IFAAS routinely partner with local law enforcement and help crack cold cases using forensic science. But Kimmerle also does research into historical cases, such as the Mariana Boys School, and into the complicated process of human decomposition.

The idea behind a "body farm" -- a term popularized by novelist Patricia Cornwell in her 1994 book based on the original facility at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville -- is that body donations are used in service of understanding what happens to a corpse after death. Sometimes, a body is placed in a specific environment in order to help figure out time since death in a particular murder investigation. Other times, one or more bodies may be studied in order to provide more precise information about post-death processes that can be generalized across a region.

Until now, there were only six outdoor forensic anthropology research centers in the U.S. -- two in Texas and one each in Tennessee, North Carolina, Illinois and Colorado. While the climate of Florida is similar in some ways to Texas, the fact that the entirety of the state is within 100 miles or fewer of water means a different set of forensic issues to solve. Opening the FIRST facility in Florida fills a state-wide need for increased research into human decomposition.

In the press conference, Nocco also noted the economic development that the FIRST facility will mean to the county, envisioning it as the "Silicon Valley of forensics." With over 16,000 cold cases in the state, a facility that brings together community, business, law enforcement and academic leaders will also provide closure to many people whose loved ones were victims of homicide.

Kimmerle notes that, along with the body donation program, she and her team will be focusing on innovative technologies. She plans to employ virtual autopsies, which use 3D scanning and CT technology to look inside bodies and document trauma in a novel way. Additionally, Kimmerle and her team have been pursuing techniques in geochemistry, using stable isotopes found in the teeth in an attempt to narrow down where a deceased individual was born and when they moved around. They may even begin to use 3D printing to replicate injuries or other physical evidence in order to present it to a jury during a trial.

It has been about two years since the previous plans for a "body farm" in Florida were tabled while a new location was scouted. Kimmerle is excited by the current partnership and by what the FIRST facility will mean. "This program is essential for bringing much needed research, technology and forensic training to our area," she told me. "It is an opportunity for us to build capacity as a national service provider in forensic identification and for the state of Florida to become a leader in these areas, bringing economic growth, innovation to STEM education, and researchers here from around the country."

The education angle was also important to Mike Moore, Chair of the Board of County Commissioners, and to Sheriff Nocco. Both reiterated in the press conference that educating law enforcement personnel, training forensics specialists and showing teenagers the rewards of a STEM-based job are priorities for this area.

In the end, though, Kimmerle points out that "the result of this program is that our community, state and the victims of some of the most tragic crimes benefit enormously."

The Pasco County Sheriff's department is spearheading the effort to raise funds to construct the facility on the land that has been acquired, along with assistance from state senator Wilton Simpson and state representative Danny Burgess. When complete, FIRST will include a classroom, morgue, training facility, research and service labs, and evidence storage. And USF is in charge of the already popular body donation program.

For more information, check out yesterday's press conference here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristin.../#5e85b28645bf