Friday, 10 February 2012

Workshops

As I've mentioned previously, I've had the opportunity to work on forensic science/chemistry workshops. Back in 2010 I was given the chance to help out one of my colleagues in setting up one of the workshops, and from there, took an active role in planning, setting up and running the workshops. Over time, I've been able to present to a range of people, young and old and from all walks of life.

Presenting workshops to high school kids is a highlight of my work at the moment. Sure, you can get a group of kids that have no interest in science, or a group that thinks it is a good idea to try and snort fingerprinting powder, but overall I've had a blast.

A typical workshop begins with a brief introduction to forensic science and how the portrayal of forensic science on television shows like CSI is often highly inaccurate. Afterwards, there is a hands-on demonstration of how to deposit fingerprints on suitable surfaces, how to develop these fingerprints with suitable fingerprint powders, and then how to lift the developed fingerprints with gelatine lifters.

Depending on the group and their interests, it's then off to the dark room and/or the microscope room. In the dark room, the students get to look at some of the cool bits of equipment available for use by undergraduate students and researchers. The Polilight is one such instrument, and allows me to show off the use of different coloured light sources in a forensic setting, and to also show fluorescence of fingerprinting reagents like Rhodamine 6G.

As an aside, the Polilight is an Australian invention, developed back in 1989. It was named by the Powerhouse Museum as one of the top 100 Australian inventions of the 20th century. Also, if you're ever in Canberra, around Dunlop, then you can visit Polilight Street. Cool, eh?

In the microscope room, students have the opportunity to view a range of items under different microscopes. They get a chance to compare and contrast different plant, animal and man-made fibres, and to look at the layers that make up a paint chip from a car.

The highlight for a reasonable number of students, however, is the mock crime scene. In the past, I was limited by the space available, though in recent months I've had the opportunity to make use of a larger and more suitable "Search Room". In short, a "Search Room" is typically used for collecting fibres from items of interest, and features a large, centrally located table in a very well-lit room. As such, I've had the chance to have some fun setting up the crime scenes, and have been able to draw a bit of inspiration from shows such as Dexter.

After all this is a quick Q&A session, answering any and all questions that the students have about university life, research, science, chemistry, drugs and poisons, autopsies and so on.

Here are a few shots of a crime scene I set up late last year, making full use of my fake blood recipe.

Oh the humanity! Or in the case, mannequinity!

Another view of the crime scene.

The right lighting conditions for murder most foul.

The possessions of the deceased.

Fake blood. Also, ouch!

More blood, and a different view of the crime scene.

I was always rather concerned about how gory this crime scene was, and how the students would respond. In the past I have had a few students who have become green around the gills when I mention blood, corpses or things of that nature. I shouldn't have worried though, as the students that got to experience this crime scene thought it was fantastic. Apparently more blood and gore the better, eh?

Well, hope you enjoyed all that. Until next time, warmest regards,
Nathan

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