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Girls in STEM 2017, with Forensic Outreach & the CFS

Sian ESmith16 February 2017

Written by Simona Gherghel

On 7th of February, Accenture together with STEMettes organised a major STEM event across 7 different locations (including London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh in the UK). The aim of the event was to inspire girls aged between 11 and 13 to consider STEM subjects and careers. The event featured a series of inspiring talks as well as hands-on workshops, where girls took part in various activities such as 3D printing, coding and getting into the shoes of a forensic scientist.

 

Forensic_outreach_STEM

Picture by Simona Gherghel

 

On behalf of Forensic Outreach, Michaela Regan  and myself got involved in the event at Newcastle, UK, where we delivered four 1-hour CSI workshops with around 60 girls in each one. We kicked the show off with a short presentation on the different forms of evidence often encountered at a crime scene, and how they can be used to help investigations. After which, it was the time for the girls to help us solve the mystery surrounding the ‘death of our victim’.

They accomplished this by working though four different stations (crime scene, fingerprinting, blood spatter, and marks and impressions), where they were able to gather intelligence to build up a case against the criminal. We were thrilled with the enthusiasm, the involvement, as well as the reasoning skills shown by our participants.

 

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Picture by Simona Gherghel

 

We had such a fantastic experience at the Girls in STEM event in Newcastle, and we hope that through our workshops and our passion we inspired girls to consider a career in forensic sciences!

 

 

“Mission Decipher”: Public Engagement in the Forensic Sciences

Sian ESmith21 July 2016

Last month I was lucky enough to work with a school from Birmingham, the Selly Oak Trust School on behalf of Forensic Outreach. We spent an hour and a half together learning a bit about the history of cryptography and then on to solving mysteries! They made their own enigma machines, translated coded World War II messages, and reconstructed shredded documents. We definitely had some budding cryptanalysts that day – they solved the mysteries with flying colours!

But why is science outreach and public engagement so important?

In the early 19th Century, public lectures lead to the popularisation of science. Nowadays, scientific fields, like forensic science and forensic anthropology, are popular storylines for TV shows. This is great because it opens people’s minds to the opportunities and fascinating technologies that we use. But perhaps…they are slightly exaggerated sometimes. Sadly, our days aren’t filled with witty one liners, steely stares, and dramatically removing our sunglasses (as fun as that would be).

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http://goo.gl/dFxH2B

 

These shows do a great job at demonstrating the real-world applications of the forensic sciences: using bones to identify who someone was and how they died, or using DNA to solve a sexual assault case for example. Science needs to be more integrated into our culture and media is a great way to do it.

Public engagement, or outreach, are great for both the audience and the researchers. Research Councils UK emphasise that engaging with a non-specialist audience can greatly improve your communication skills; this is definitely something that I have experienced as a facilitator. I feel more comfortable discussing my research at events and in finding ways to get the public engaged with the topic. It is a chance for kids and adults to get hands on experience with the tools and knowledge we use in our jobs. Along the way we also hope to inspire kids and young adults to consider the different career opportunities they can have.

For me, engaging with the public provides a guide for making my work more impactful. 3D imaging and forensic science both gain a lot of media attention, but more importantly the public have a significant stake in their success. Being able to present one of my research projects to a lay audience is a similar skill to presenting evidence for a jury.

The stake the public have in science is also our ability to understand and debate on issues impactful to our lives. For example, are you pro- or anti-stem cell research? Are you ready for self-driving cars? Scientific development relied equally on the researchers and the public. Without public interest there is no development, or funding, or support. Elizabeth Marincola described science without engagement as “like a tree falling in a forest with no one there to hear it; it may happen but no one will care.

Who are Forensic Outreach?

Forensic Outreach

I have been working with an organisation called Forensic Outreach recently. The UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences has enjoyed a long standing working relationship with them. They provide public engagement programmes, events (e.g. late evenings) and interactive apps to promote public interest in the work of major museums and city attractions. They work with national museums, charities, and local schools – you can check out some of their previous work here. The facilitators are a mix of PhD students, researchers, and practitioners; it’s a really fun way for us to bring our research and the subjects that we love to really wide audiences. They also run an online magazine with articles on current issues and a history of forensic science cases.

Keep up to date Forensic Outreach on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

 

Follow us on Twitter:  @UCLForensicSciences@sianysmith

Curious Case of the Cat Burglar

Sian ESmith13 May 2016

As part of Inspire’s exciting iDiscover programme, myself and Simona had the wonderful opportunity to talk to some primary school children about the forensic sciences and how we help ‘fight crime’!
We spent the day with the nursery and reception classes at Colvestone Primary School and tried to wow them with our science-witchcraft. Using coffee filters and felt pens we ran a little experiment to replicate chromatography; using the rainbow coloured papers we made them into beautiful butterflies.

Chromatography butterfly

Chromatography butterfly

Then, our budding little forensic scientists solved the crime of who stole the money using footprints… or paw prints as it turned out. The lion had made off with the cash!

Who stole the cash?

Who stole the cash?

Michaela and Agathe also took the show on the road to Hackney New Primary School. They received a lovely welcome from the children and teachers, who all really enjoyed the session.
We all had a great time taking our love of forensic science to the schools, and hopefully inspired our lovely audiences to one day become forensic scientists

You can follow Inspire’s twitter updates here

Day Out with Inspire at Nightingales’ Primary School

MichaelaRegan15 March 2016

Forensic science has become an area of worldwide interest accentuated by the success of television series such as CSI. This means that it is an ideal topic for outreach events as children are already captivated by it. We do these events to demonstrate to children the fun and amazing aspects of science but also show the importance of it. With older students (GCSE and A-level) we chat about our experiences, the benefits of getting a university degree and career options available to them. This gives the opportunity to ask any questions they might have and for them to get ideas on the type of subjects they might be interested in.

Today I spent the day at Nightingale’s primary school with Lucinda from Inspire. Here we talked about crime, police officers and witnesses to the nursery and reception classes (3-5 year olds). We also did an activity on the use of footprints by looking at different types of animal prints. We then enjoyed making chromatography butterflies.

Chromatography Butterflies!!

Chromatography Butterflies!!

They loved it and wanted to make them in all different colours. These butterflies are great as they’re really easy to do and aesthetically pleasing. Overall, they really enjoyed themselves and so did we! Looking forward to April for more outreach!