Meeting with Senator Rockefeller Staff

I met with Senator Jay Rockefeller’s staff on Capitol Hill while on a trip to Washington, D.C. Rockefeller is introducing a bill—the Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012—to promote research and reform in the forensic sciences. The staff asked for copies of my research and asked me to formally comment on the legislation in preparation for Senate Committee markup. I was honoured to make a contribution and hope my suggestions make it into the next round! Click for more.

Matthew B Thompson - Capitol Hill Washington, D.C.

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UCLA Workshop on Law, Science & Evidence

I had the pleasure of attending a two-day workshop on Law, Science & Evidence hosted by Jennifer Mnookin and Jerry Kang of PULSE: Program on Understanding Law, Science and Evidence. I had thoughtful exchanges with Michael RisingerDeborah TuerkheimerBill Thompson, Gary Edmond, Rachel Godsil, Michael Pardo, Wendy Wagner, Song Richardson, Amanda Pustilnik, Jason Tangen, Christopher Kelty, Phillip Goff, and Simon Cole. Many thanks to the wonderful hosts! Click for more.

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Second in Best Illusion of the Year Contest!

We’ve taken out second place in the Best Illusion of the Year Contest, 2012! Like many interesting scientific discoveries, this one was an accident. Sean Murphy, an undergraduate student, was working alone in the lab on a set of faces for one of his experiments. He aligned a set of faces at the eyes and started to skim through them. After a few seconds, he noticed that some of the faces began to appear highly deformed and grotesque. He looked at the especially ugly faces individually, but each of them appeared normal or even attractive. We called it the “Flashed Face Distortion Effect” and wanted to share it with the world, so we put it on YouTube. Click for more.

The effect seems to depend on processing each face in light of the others. By aligning the faces at the eyes and presenting them quickly, it becomes much easier to compare them, so the differences between the faces are more extreme. If someone has a large jaw, it looks almost ogre-like. If they have an especially large forehead, then it looks particularly bulbous. We’re conducting several experiments right now to figure out exactly what’s causing this effect, so watch this space!

Featured in Nature and New Scientist. Click for more.

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Drinks at the US Embassy

Ambassador Bleich hosted the annual Fulbright reception at the Residence in Canberra and Jason Tangen and I went along. I met the Afghan Ambassador—Nasir Ahmad Andisha (also a Fulbright Scholar)—and the US Ambassador—Jeffrey L. Bleich—and lots of other impressive (though mostly grey-haired!) people. The Australian-American Fulbright Commission and Program is marking it’s 62nd Anniversary. Signed in 1949, it was amongst the first treaties signed between Australia and the U.S.

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The Forensic Reasoning Project Launches

The Forensic Reasoning Project has been successful in obtaining an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant (LP120100063) based at The University of Queensland. The four year, $332,000 grant will help researchers and forensic experts understand the nature of expertise in identification to improve training and the value of expert testimony in the criminal justice system. The project is lead by Dr Jason Tangen and partner organisations include the Australian Federal Police, the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency National Institute of Forensic Science Australia, and the Queensland Police Service.


I spoke briefly at TEDxBrisbane this year. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx—a program of local, self-organised events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. TEDxBrisbane was held at the Queensland State Library and spread across three rooms (two via video link). Speakers ranged from artists to scientists and from thinkers to doers. It was a pleasure to be part of such an inspiring and important event!

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Winner Three Minute Thesis Australia-New Zealand

After winning the UQ Final of the Three Minute Thesis Competition, I travelled to the University of Western Australia to compete against 42 other PhD students from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. I was blown away by the quality of the presentations and the importance of the research. I can’t imagine how the judges managed to make a decision but I ended up coming out on top. Click for more.

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