Issue 5 February 2013 w: www.ucl.ac.uk/forensic-sciences e: firstname.lastname@example.org @UCLForensicSci
in this issue: • QAA publishes Forensic Science Benchmark Statement • New forensic research by UCL Computer Science visual recognition of handwriting • Forensic Horizons and the Forensic Science Special Interest Group (SIG) • International forensic science conferences 2012 • SECReT programme - applications open for 2013 • Research seminar series • UCL Museums & Public Engagement - the Galton Collection • UCL Academy - outreach through collaboration • Upcoming events including the SECReT open evening
QAA Forensic Science Benchmark statement published In December 2012 the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) published a subject benchmark statement for the forensic sciences. Subject benchmarks statements are a way for the academic community to describe the nature and characteristics of programmes in a subject such as forensic science. They represent general expectations about the standards for the award of qualifications at a given level in terms of the attributes and capabilities that those possessing such qualifications should be able to demonstrate. The publication provides a helpful standard for universities to aim for and achieve. The Director of the JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences, Dr Ruth Morgan, was a member of the benchmarking group, along with representatives from other higher education institutions, providers of forensic science services, professional and learned bodies, and training providers. In his foreword to the publication, Brian Rankin (Head of Centre for Forensic Investigation, Teeside University) says: “This subject benchmark statement is firmly based in science and therefore has drawn on other benchmark state-
ments for science subjects, such as chemistry and biosciences. We have focused on learning outcomes, rather than a repetition of content or curricula from other science subjects. The benchmarking group has worked hard to capture the unique and distinctive nature of forensic science, its setting within the investigative process as an academic subject, and its application for a forensic practitioner. The knowledge and transferable skills developed in a forensic science degree course are also valuable preparation for many other careers.” You can download the benchmark statement from the QAA website: w: http://bit.ly/VgqGqm
Visual recognition systems in forensic science A new technique, developed at UCL, for establishing authorship of pieces of handwritten text has won the international Arabic Writer Identification contest for the second year running . The method, developed as part of on-going research looking at how computer vision techniques can be used in forensic science applications, uses a visual recognition system developed within the Computer Science department by Dr Andrew Newell and Dr Lewis Griffin. Whereas some methods for writer identification attempt to recognise individual letters or sections of words, this technique considers handwriting as a form of texture. This means that the technique can easily be applied across different languages and alphabets without the need for specific knowledge of vocabulary. The same visual recognition system used in the technique has also recently been applied to another problem in forensic science, the automatic classification of quartz grains based upon surface texture, with very encouraging results . The researchers now plan further work in these two areas as well as actively seeking new applications in forensic science. For further details please contact Dr Andrew Newell e: email@example.com  Details available at www.kaggle.com  Newell, A. J., Morgan, R. M., Griffin, L. D., Bull, P. A., Marshall, J. R. and Graham, G. Automated Texture Recognition of Quartz Sand Grains for Forensic Applications. Journal of Forensic Sciences 2012 Dr Andrew Newell UCL Computer Science
Forensic Science Special Interest Group: a new partnership The Centre, in collaboration with the newly formed Forensic Science Special Interest Group (SIG), hosted an event on 23rd January - Conversations in Forensic Science: Pathways to Partnership. The Forensic Science SIG is a community for everyone involved in forensic science. Funded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to run a programme of activities aimed at enabling closer networking between forensic science users, suppliers, researchers and policy makers, it was created as a direct response to the Silverman Review of research and development in the forensic sciences (2011). You can find out more and join the Forensic Science SIG online community by visiting the _connect website. w: http://bit.ly/15l6LhI Speakers included CFS steering group members Professor David Balding and Dr Lewis Griffin, Dr Gill Tully (Principle Forensic Services) and Dr Ali Anjomshoaa (Forensic Science SIG). Delegates included practitioners, acdemics from other HE institutions, and many of our students. A panel session, ably chaired by David Coleman (CFS External Advisory Board), generated some interesting discussions on how cutting edge research from academia can be validated and made available to those in the industry. w: http://bit.ly/wd1o7R
Conferences round-up: 2012 2012 was a busy year for forensic science conferences, both in the UK and abroad. August 2012 In August, Dr Ruth Morgan, Dr David Lagnado, Professor David Balding and Dr Itiel Dror* also attended and presented at the 6th European Academy of Forensic Science Conference, held at The Hague, in the Netherlands. *We are pleased to announce that Itiel Dror is joining the Centre as an Honorary Senior Research Associate. Interested in how the brain and cognitive system perceives and interprets information, he has a PhD from Harvard University in cognitive neuroscience. His work focuses on the cognitive architecture that underpins expertise, researching expert performance in the real world and examining medical surgeons, military fighter pilots, front line police, and forensic analysts. This research provides insights into the inherent trade-offs of being an expert. In the forensic domain he has demonstrated how contextual information can influence the judgments and decision making of experts; he has shown that even fingerprint and DNA experts can reach different conclusions when the same evidence is presented within different extraneous contexts. September 2012 Staff and students from the Centre attended the 21st International Symposium on the Forensic Sciences of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society (ANZFSS), held in Hobart, Tasmania in September. Dr Ruth Morgan and a number of our PhD students gave presentations on their research, which were all well-received: James French spoke about his research on the secondary transfer of gunshot residue (GSR) and his use of Bayes nets to analyse the results;
Georgia McCulloch presented the initial findings from her analysis of organic soil samples and their potential use in forensic provenance; Nadia Abdul-Karim won a conference award for the best oral presentation for her paper on the retrieval of chemical explosives residue from blast scenes. Well done Nadia! November 2012 In November the Forensic Regulator hosted an important meeting at the University of Warwick, organised by the Forensic Science Society (FSSoc). The aim of the Forensic Horizons: Research & Development in the Forensic Sciences conference was to begin a conversation between academics, practitioners and policy makers on the future of the forensic sciences in the UK. The Special Interest Group was launched at this meeting, and it was a chance to network with others and hear many different perspectives on the challenges and opportunities ahead. A number of staff and students from the Centre attended the conference, including some of our new MSc students, who began their studies in October. It was a valuable opportunity for them to see beyond the classroom to the reality of the situation facing forensic science. The FSSoc also organised a student conference in December 2012, and Sally Gamble (one of our MRes students) attended in order to receive an award for her MSc dissertation.
“I was presented with the Forensic Science Society Accredited University Student Award for the research project that I carried out at London South Bank University whilst completing my part-time MSc in Forensic Science. The prize included complimentary FSSoc e-student membership and a ticket to the FSSoc Student Conference in December 2012. My research project looked at Matrix Effects on the Analysis of Illicit Stimulant Drugs using Liquid Chromatography coupled with Tandem Mass Spectrometry. This work investigated the difference in quantification results of four illicit stimulant drugs (cocaine, cathinone, methamphetamine and mephedrone) when they are analysed in a pure standard compared to when they are analysed in a mixture containing some of their common adulterants often found in street samples. The matrix effect is an important phenomenon to take into consideration when quantification of illicit drug samples is necessary for evidence in court, since it can have a significant effect on the outcome of the analysis. I also applied this to the quantification of illicit stimulant drugs present in river water samples, as well as taking into consideration the effectiveness of water treatment plants and human drug metabolism in order to assess drug usage per population adjacent to the river water being sampled.” Sally Gamble MRes student (SECReT) The SECReT programme is currently recruiting for 2013! 11 scholarships are available from EPSRC, for applicants interested in researching an aspect of security and/or crime science (including forensic science). To find out more and to apply, visit the website: http://bit.ly/sHWhO4
MSc Crime & Forensic Science Our new cohort of MSc students have settled in well to their degree programme, with some of them having already completed optional modules in subjects such as Forensic Archaeology and Molecular Biology. In addition to their timetabled lectures and seminars, we have run a weekly forensic science seminar on a Wednesday afternoon for those who can attend and many of these seminars have also been open to any other students at UCL who have a particular interest in forensic science. During the autumn term we were fortunate enough to have guest speakers including Professor Peter Vanezis (Queen Mary, University of London), Shivani Lamba (Forensic Outreach), Mark Stroud, Peter Fulham and Stephen Bleay (from the Centre for Applied Science & Technology, Home Office), and Dave Thomas and colleagues (West Mercia Police). Some of our second and final year PhD students have presented their research to the MSc and MRes students, and the Centre is also running a forensic science bi-termly reading group. For the spring and summer terms we have another great line-up of guest speakers who have been kind enough to agree to visit us and talk about their work: • Gemma Angel (UCL) • Brian Rankin (University of Teeside) • Dr Peter Bull (University of Oxford) • Professor Colin Aitken (University of Edinburgh) • James Allman-Talbot (Metropolitan Police Service) • Ross McEwing (TRACE) These will be open to the public, so do check our website for information on dates and times and see page 6 for further details.
Research seminars programme - term 1
UCL Museums - visiting the Galton Collection
Forensic Outreach Shivani Lamba, director of Forensic Outreach, talked to our students about science communication. Forensic Outreach was initially conceived as part of UCL’s Widening Participation programme in 2002, as a project bringing forensic science into school classrooms in the UK. Over the past 10 years it has evolved into an online resource for teachers, students and the public alike. Shivani encouraged our MSc, MRes and PhD students to get involved by writing articles and recording podcasts for the website. w: http://forensicoutreach.com/
In December 2012 a group of students from the Centre visited the Rock Room at UCL for a talk and demonstration from Subhadra Das, curator of the Galton Collection for UCL Museums and Public Engagement.
CAST (Centre for Applied Science & Technology) Mark Stroud and Peter Fulham spoke to our students about the work that the UK Home Office does in the field of crime and forensic science, and how this feeds into the work of the police and other forensic practitioners. As a result of this seminar, some of our students are conducting research for their MSc/MRes dissertations with the support of CAST. Professor Peter Vanezis Professor Vanezis - a highly respected pathologist and professor of forensic medicine - gave a fascinating talk on research into the phenomenon of bruising, and how this is used by forensic nurses and doctors, as well as by forensic pathologists. He runs the MSc in Forensic Medical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London.
They went to find out more about Francis Galton, who gave his name to the UCL Galton Laboratory as well as this museum collection. A Victorian polymath and cousin to Charles Darwin, Francis Galton is principally known for his pioneering work in the field of statistics, and also for being the ‘father of eugenics’. Less well-known perhaps is his work on the early use of fingerprints as a means of identifying individuals. While he did not invent the technique, he was certainly responsible for popularising it.
Subhadra presented various objects from the collection held at UCL, including sets of fingerprints like the ones in the image above. The use of fingerprint evidence is so ubiquitous in forensic science now that it is fascinating to see this early work. Galton was obsessed with measuring things, and classifying people according to type. He was a strong believer in (genetic) inheritance, although in his day scientists were unaware that genes were the mechanism of inherited characteristics like hair and eye colour. We saw a collection of hair samples of different colours, and of glass eyes, which gazed out unblinkingly (and unnervingly) at us. Another aspect of Galton’s work that has relevance to crime and forensic
science is the use of photography to document criminals.
This technique was pioneered in Paris by a police clerk named Alphonse Bertillon, who took photographs (‘mugshots’ like the one above in UCL’s Galton Collection of Bertillon himself) of criminals and various physical mearsurements in order to build up a physical profile for identification. Galton took this idea beyond the profiling of criminals for identification purposes and had ambitions to classify and categorise the whole of humanity. To this end, on his death he bequeathed the (then enormous) sum of £45,000 to UCL for the foundation of the National Laboratory for Eugenics. Later it was renamed the Galton Laboratory, and became part of the Biology Department in 1996. UCL Museums and Collections are planning to put images of many of the fascinating objects in their stores online, and some (like the ones shown in this article) are already available on Moodle. If you are interested, have a look and give them some feedback: w: http://bit.ly/YJnn0q
UCL Academy - outreach & engagement with schools In December 2012 the Centre was contacted by Lorraine Stolarczyk, Curriculum Leader for Physics at UCL Academy. Lorraine asked for input into the science curriculum she was designing for Year 7 (11 year olds), which had a forensic science theme. UCL Academy is a new school in Camden, sponsored by UCL. At the moment there are 180 Y7 students and 125 Y12 (6th form) students, and they will reach full capacity by 2016. As an academy, they are independent of the Local Authority and will benefit from the support of UCL - including master classes, seminars and summer schools.
A group from CFS went into the school in early January to run a couple of activities to help introduce the pupils to forensic science as a discipline. Nadia Abdul-Karim, David Pugh and Kirstie Hampson went in to talk to the students during the first week of term. We gave a brief introductory talk to 90 students, and answered some of their questions about what forensic scientists do (there were several questions about dead bodies!). Nadia then set up a mock ‘crime scene’ using everyday things a handbag, a bottle with some liquid in it, a crumpled up piece of paper and invited groups of pupils to come in and say what they thought might have happened, and what they would do if they were crime scene investigators.
SuperLab! “2053 AD. Humankind has harnessed the super abilities of comic books and science fiction. And now the battle between good and evil continues at a heightened pace.
Some unusual scenarios were suggested by some of the pupils (not to mention a fair bit of contamination when they walked all over the scene!) but they also knew more than they realised about how evidence is important to forensic scientists. Afterwards they discussed together as a large group how a real crime scene investigator would have processed the scene - looking at some real scene markers, and photos of the protective clothing worn by professional investigators.
We are delighted that were was good feedback from the teachers and the pupils, who loved the session. We look forward to working with UCL Academy again in the future and hope to build a partnership with them on the foundations of these initial visits. One idea is to run a mock trial later in the year with some of our PhD students taking part as expert witnesses to show pupils how the world of the courtroom relates to the science they are studying in the classroom. If you are interested in getting involved please get in touch with Kirstie Hampson e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Scientists have enhanced crime fighters’ human senses. The latest techniques and technology are applied to track down criminals. But these extraordinary abilities can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Evil has fought back. Reading minds and controlling people’s thoughts are possible to the skilled few. Roll back 40 years to 2013. How close are we to attaining these abilities? Probably closer than you think.” A group of PhD students, postdocs and artists - including Nadia AbdulKarim, Georgia McCulloch, Dagmar Heinrich and Helen Earwaker from the CFS - are involved in this outreach project. They mixed science and art to explore the techniques artists use, how science and art influence each other, and whether the super abilities conjured up from comic books and science fiction can soon become a reality. They ran two events during February (20th & 27th) at the Bedroom Bar in Shoreditch, London and both were hugely successful sell-out occasions. See their website for details: w: http://superlab.org.uk/index.html You can also follow them on Twitter: @SuperLAB13
Stay in touch
Recent events Conversations in Forensic Science: Pathways to Partnership 23rd January 2013 UCL We jointly hosted an event with the Forensic Science Special Interest Group, which brought together forensic science stakeholders, practitioners, service managers, trainers, industry providers and academics to discuss how to improve partnership working. The programme and presentation slides can be viewed on our website. w: http://bit.ly/wd1o7R
Upcoming events SECReT Open Evening 12th March 2013 UCL The Security Science Doctoral Research Training Centre (SECReT) is holding an open evening in March for prospective PhD students. 11 scholarships from EPSRC are available to successful applicants, including fees and a full stipend. Students undertake an MRes in their first year before upgrading to a 3-year PhD. For further information, see the events page on the department website. w: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/scs/events
CFS Research Seminar The courtroom - where justice is played out? 6th March 2013, 4pm* UCL We will be welcoming Dr Peter Bull, University of Oxford, to the Centre in March to talk about his work as an expert witness. CFS Research Seminar Statistical aspects of forensic evidence 13th March 2013, 4pm* UCL Professor Colin Aitken is visiting the Centre to talk about how forensic evidence can be interpreted using statistical methods.
To keep up-to-date with news from the CFS, events we are running and external news in the forensic science field, why not visit our website and follow our newsfeed on Twitter? w: www.ucl.ac.uk/forensic-sciences @UCLForensicSci e: email@example.com
Forensics Europe Expo 24th-25th April 2013 Olympia, London The inaugural Forensics Europe Expo will take place in April 2013. It is sponsored by LGC Forensics and organised in collaboration with The Forensic Science Society. Information on exhibitors and seminars can be found on their website. w: http://bit.ly/Yejxe3
CFS Research Seminar Wildlife Forensics 8th May 2013, 4pm* UCL Ross McEwing from TRACE UK will talk to us in May about the field of wildlife forensics and the challenge of combatting wildlife crime. *Places at these seminars are limited, so if you would like to attend, please email us for details.
CFS Bulletin February 2013 Editor: Kirstie Hampson Contributors: Andrew Newell Sally Gamble Next issue May 2013