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Lorna Dawson

Staff picture: Lorna Dawson
Environmental and Biochemical Sciences
+44 (0)844 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK

Lorna Dawson is a Principal Soil Scientist in the Environmental and Biochemical Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute, and has over 25 years experience in managing and conducting research in soil and plant interactions.

Lorna is Head of the Soil Forensics Group at the Hutton Institute, honorary professor in Forensic Science at Robert Gordon University, and is seconded to manage and advise on the Environmental Change programme within the Scottish Government‘s (RESAS) strategic research, where she reports to the Directors' Executive Committee to ensure effective delivery of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme.

She has published widely, and regularly presents at national and international conferences. She is affiliated to Aberdeen and Robert Gordon Universities in Aberdeen, contributing to the Archaeology, Soils, Environment and Forensic Science lecture courses, and is an external examiner at Strathclyde University. She has supervised over 20 PhD projects and has published over 70 refereed journal papers, books and book chapters. She is an editor for journals ISRN Soil Science and Elsevier, Materials Research Bulletin. Lorna developed the application of soil organo-mineral markers in forensic investigations and was Principal Investigator on a project funded by the EPSRC, developing tools for soil characterisation in forensics. This work involved collaboration with various forensic experts in the National Policing Improvement Agency, the Forensic Science Service, and various police laboratories and forces. She is currently the Lead PI on a FW7 European grant (MiSAFE) developing and testing microbial tools for use in case work. She is treasurer of an international Geoforensics network (IUGS Initiative on Forensic Geology-IFG). She is a member of the ENFSI (European Network of Forensic Science Institutes) Animals, Plants, Soils Traces (APST) working group and a member of the Technical Committee of the University of Messina, Rome, teaching on the Masters in Forensic Geology course. She coordinated sessions at the International Crime Science Meetings, London, 2007-2009 and organised major conferences on environmental and criminal soil forensics in 2007 and 2010, and the International Network of Environmental Forensics and has co-organised major international conferences in 2007 (Edinburgh), 2010 (California) and in 2012 (The Hague).

Current research interests 

Lorna has co-edited seminal books on Geoforensics (Springer, 2009 and The Geological Society, London, 2013), is a trained Expert Witness and is Head of the Hutton Soil Forensic team (see leaflet on our soil forensic services, PDF file) and has worked on over 70 forensic cases in the UK and abroad, as a forensic soil expert working for police forces, lawyers and forensic service providers. She regularly presents evidence in courts in Scotland, England, Wales and Australia. She is a member of the British Society of Soil Science, a Chartered Soil Scientist, was a council member of the Institute of Professional Soil Scientists (2009-2013) and was a member of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Science in Society panel (2007-2011). She has considerable experience in knowledge exchange, has worked on sabbatical for the BBC, advising on 'Countryfile', ‘Vera’ and 'Silent Witness'. She has also worked with a range of crime authoirs ( Murder, Mystery & Microscopes pages), e.g. crime author Ann Cleeves to produce a Murder, Mystery Pack to be distributed to libraries to run public events. She is responsible for developing many of the Institute's soil education resources, for example, composting, and Soils of the Crofts which is currently being translated into Gaelic with Crofting Connections. She organised and performed in public debating events, examining the interface between science and fiction, and was awarded best live science communication event, 2009. She was appointed to the General Committee of the British Science Association in 2013 and is Chair of the Scottish Government; RESAS Knowledge Exchange Committee (2012 - present); is a member of the Chief Scientist’s Science and Engineering Community Forum (2014 - present) and is a non-executive member of the Marine Scotland Science Development Project Team.


Lorna's highlighted publications

Lorna's most recent publications


  • Carvalho, A.; Ribeiro, H.; Dawson, L.A.; Mayes, B.; Guedes, A.; Abreu, I., (2012) Independent techniques for the forensic characterisation of river beaches., 6th European Academy of Forensic Science Conference, (EAFS), Towards Forensic Science 2, The Hague, Netherlands, 20-24 August, 2012, p189.
  • Dawson, L.A., (2012) Soil as intelligence and evidence: learning experiences from research and casework. 6th European Academy of Forensic Science Conference, (EAFS), Towards Forensic Science 2, The Hague, Netherlands, 20-24 August, 2012, p291. Keynote presentation, p137.
  • Dawson, L.A., (2012) The James Hutton Institute research focusing on soils and the environment., CSIRO, Floreat, Perth, Australia, 3 October 2012.
  • von der Luhe, B.M.; Dawson, L.A.; Mayes, R.W.; Forbes, S.L.; Fielder, S., (2012) The preliminary investigation of animal sterols for the detection of decomposing bodies in soil., 6th European Academy of Forensic Science Conference, (EAFS), Towards Forensic Science 2, The Hague, Netherlands, 20-24 August, 2012, p291.

Articles of interest

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  • Phone: +44 (0)844 928 5428
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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.