THINKING

Paola and a group of students walking away from a crime scene

Paola Magni

Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science

By her own admission, Paola Magni was an unusual child.

"When I was five I would open chestnuts just to see the bugs inside… I was a weird kid. I’m still a weird adult!”

Absolutely fascinated with nature, she was spellbound by animals, plants, the earth, and all things in between.

Many years, a few degrees, and a move across the world later, she’s using that same love for nature to solve our most serious crimes.

A global success

It’s hard to know where to start when describing Paola’s achievements.

She’s an internationally renowned expert on forensic biology, an app developer, one of the world’s best science communicators, an expert witness for the Court of Law, a TEDx speaker, a screenplay consultant for CSI Italy, and – lucky for our students – a senior lecturer in forensic science at Murdoch.

She’s a trailblazer and an inspiration. She’s a shining example of someone who listened to their heart and fearlessly pursued their passions. 

An unorthodox path to forensics

Paola didn’t always have her heart set on forensics.

“When I started to be interested in forensic science, I didn’t even know forensic science was a thing. In fact, forensics wasn’t even offered at my university in Italy. In that time, forensics was only something medical doctors studied. Otherwise you had to go to the police academy.”

Inspired by her love for nature, Paola studied a degree in natural sciences, focusing on both biology and geology.

When it was time for her to do the research component of her degree – in remote Kazakhstan, no less – she had a crisis of her purpose in the world.

“I spent six months in Kazakhstan researching reptiles and amphibians. Yes it was scientific and interesting, but I wasn’t happy. I kept asking myself ‘What’s the point of this? Who is it for? Am I really helping anyone?’ I was longing for something relevant to real life. Something which truly helped people.”

She decided to take a break, head back to Italy, and enrol in something a bit different. By chance, she chose a unit in entomology (the study of insects).

To become a researcher is the only way to progress and provide new information in this field. This is what keeps me going.

Life-changing bugs

It was that first lecture in entomology which changed everything for Paola.

“I remember in my first lecture the lecturer telling us:

‘Some people study beautiful insects, some people study damaging insects and some people study useful insects. However, in the last few years, people have started to study insects at crime scenes’.

It was one sentence in a lecture, not meant to be anything, but it gave me the light bulb in my head”

To Paola, this sounded like exactly what she’d been looking for. A way to apply knowledge and research of the natural world in a way that contributes majorly to the benefit of society.

She went home, did some further research in the field and found out there was a conference in London about forensic entomology. Based on that one sentence, she booked a flight and a ticket.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Changing the way we understand crimes

After taking a post doctorate position in Western Australia, Paola moved to Murdoch in 2013. Still driven by the desire to help people, she’s thrown herself into research to extend her ability to contribute to criminal cases.

“To become a researcher is the only way to progress and provide new information in this field. This is what keeps me going.”

Studying how insects and other animals interact with deceased bodies and pieces of evidence allows her to make inferences about how and when crimes were committed. She’s contributed to solving murder cases both on land and in the ocean (aquatic forensics), as well as cases of animal cruelty and biosecurity.