Syrian Refugee Develops Dentistry Tech to ID Gender of War Victims

Rawad Qaq large

The globally free-to-use Sex Calculator could help experts in the field use skulls to identify the gender of deceased war victims.  

A Syrian refugee Rawad Qaq, a PhD Forensic Dentistry student at the University of Dundee has unveiled a Sex Calculator, which requires limited information and zero internet connection to help forensic scientists predict the sex of a skull.

Qaq was forced to flee his native Syria in 2015 at the age of 23 due to the destruction of his country, leaving behind his family in a war-torn country.

“When I fled Syria, I was completely alone without any real-life experience. War doesn’t care because you are a student. It tears apart families and lives. As things got worse in my country, like so many hundreds of thousands of people, I was forced to flee to safety to Lebanon at first.”

Qaq made the arduous 22-day trip on a boat to Europe where he alighted in Germany. From there he then travelled to Dundee where he worked to gain a scholarship to study a PhD in forensic dentistry at the University of Dundee, having earned his Masters there.

The 28 year-old now believes that his work, published in the journal Forensic Science International: Reports, could help introduce forensic science into war-torn and developing countries that face challenges in identifications due to the lack of expertise and database health systems.

The UN estimates more than 100,000 people have been detained, abducted, disappeared or went missing, largely, but not only, by the actions of the Syrian government.

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“The skull is the second-best indicator of sex from a human skeleton after the pelvis,” Qaq said. “Often in extreme circumstances, the only remains that forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and odontologists might have to hand is a skull and so I wanted to create a solution to problems they could face in the field.

“The Sex Calculator allows experts to predict the sex of skulls with more than 80% accuracy. More importantly, our method does not require a ruler or scale which is often found in lateral cephalograms of skulls but as you can imagine is not always practical for those trying to profile the remains.

“To develop the calculator, we tested 22 common measurements on 135 radiographs of skulls kindly made available by the American Association of Orthodontists Foundation (AAOF). We found that through statistical analysis you only need four measurements to accurately distinguish between a male and female skull. We then applied the formula to 15 new samples and accurately predicted the sex of 13 skulls, so about 86% accuracy.”

While developing the calculator’s formula he made the decision to include skulls from the age of 18 years-old, as previous studies had focused on those between the ages of 20-25 years-old or above. “I felt it was crucial to expand the range of our method because by the age of 18 the key biological landmarks of the skull have developed and can help clarify if the dead was a minor or an adult, which is legally important,” he said.

Qaq developed the Sex Calculator during a Humanitarian Scholarship to study an MSc in Forensic Dentistry at the University’s School of Dentistry. Having won a highly competitive, fully-funded three year Doctorate programme through the Global Challenges Research Fund, he now studying for his PhD.

Earlier this year, he received The Herald Higher Education Award for Outstanding Contribution from a University Student in Scotland. He plans to introduce methods of forensic identification in Syria and neighbouring countries such as Iraq and Yemen, to help identify the victims of war and contribute solutions to the global problem of missing persons.



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