Is work ever fun…?

…Yes! When you are doing outreach it certainly is.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of being involved in a careers outreach activity led by Mr Ryan Badham of the Holmesdale School in Kent for his Year 7 students. I was one of four scientists (expertly selected by Mr Badham!) to be asked anything and everything about being a scientist. As I eagerly waited on the other end of a Google Hangouts chat session, I had no idea what I was going to be asked but I knew for sure it was going to be fun…and it totally was! So this week, I am continuing the outreach theme, and dedicating a blog post to the power of outreach and how, no matter what your field/career, it can be really valuable for everyone involved.

When people talk about science outreach, it is easy to imagine big science festivals or school visits. They are of course, serious fun (as Dr Helen Tidy demonstrated in last week’s post), but it doesn’t always have to be a big event to have an important impact. That was the beauty of this activity. A small-scale, simply run, question and answer session. It took less than 2 hours, and required neither party to travel beyond the office/classroom. Yet it was highly effective. I was uplifted, and given many things to think about, and the Year 7s had a blast too. I have some feedback quotes from the class, that I think are really worth sharing;

“I really liked it because it made the people think that they were helping us learn about their job”

“I found it interesting because we found out about why they wanted to be scientists”

“To have the scientists speak to us meant a lot as we were able to have the experience and learn new things”

“Speaking to the scientist was fun and exciting, we learned about their jobs and what they do. This was helpful as if I wanted to further my education in science, it’s good to know what I can get from it”

“Talking to these wonderful scientist was an honour, it was fun and educational, like [scientist’s name] fixing a multi-million pound machine. It definitely helped with career decisions and the whole class had a great time”

“I realised that not everybody becomes what they are planning to be, so it made me think that you can do anything”

“I really liked it because it made me realise that you can become anything”

 

So the activity was certainly helpful for them, in many different ways it sounds like, and that is fantastic. I was so pleased to hear all of their feedback, but it was those last two quotes in particular that really struck me.

The comments about it being possible to be anything resonated with me because it dawned on me that, other than my teachers at school and college, I don’t think I ever met or spoke to a scientist as a kid. I went to a pretty good school and a pretty good college but I don’t remember ever really thinking about what careers were out there.

Despite my school and further education being reasonable, I come from a large commuter town that doesn’t have a University. In fact, I think it is one of the highest populated towns without its own University. Before me, no one in my family had ever been to University either. I don’t think I registered at the time how much that impacted my world view and my view of my future trajectory, and although I had a few friends that went off to University, I stayed. Pursuing a future as a scientist had never occurred to me, I guess I didn’t even see it as an option for me.

Thankfully, a couple of years later I ended up heading to Portsmouth to study for an undergraduate degree. It was there that I was lucky enough to meet (and become friends with) Mr Badham, which sort of brings us full circle. While I’m still not entirely sure what it was that gave me the confidence to go in the end, I am really glad that activities like this one are allowing young students to realise early on that being a scientist is absolutely possible.

Not only did this activity really get me to think about and reflect on my own journey, it was really valuable for me in a few other ways too;

  1. It was mentally refreshing

As I mentioned earlier on, it really uplifted me. Sometimes, being a scientist can be quite intense, focusing on a difficult research question or trying to design a mind-blowing module. You can become enveloped in the academic bubble and when you are in that bubble it can be easy to forget how cool what you do is. It’s awesome to be reminded of that.

  1. I was up-skilling

Being able to explain your work and ideas to different demographics is a really important and beneficial skill. Taking a break from interacting with peers to engage with a younger audience helped me develop those skills a little further – a huge benefit for me as I enter into my first year as faculty staff teaching across foundation, undergraduate, and postgraduate levels.

  1. It was good fun!

Finally, and arguably most importantly, it was really good fun! The kids came out with some cracking questions (I’ll give some examples at the end of the post), some really made me think, and others made me laugh out loud.

But what did Mr Badham think of the activity…

“First of all I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank all the scientists for giving up their time to make this event possible. The student’s really enjoyed the event and were speaking about it for days afterwards. Furthermore, outreach like this is critically important as it allows students to develop better social skills, improves their motivation, confidence and raises their aspirations. Stereotypes persist over scientists being old men in white lab counts and countering this stereotype is an important aspect of outreach in my opinion. Additionally, exposing girls to successful female role models can help to counter negative stereotypes in science, because girls see that people like them can be successful in these fields. One of my students summed this up much more succinctly than me and I would just like to end by repeating that quote:

 “I really liked it because it made me realise that you can become anything” ”

 

So, a great exercise all round then. Huge thanks to the Year 7s at Holmesdale School and to Mr Badham for making it happen – amazing job, everyone! 😀

As promised, here are some examples of the questions I received:

“What is your favourite part of your job?”

“How many bones and muscles are in a body?”

“How cute are your dogs?” (I don’t have any dogs!)

“Have there been any sights that have scared you?”

“Were you ever in trouble at school?” (A very popular question to all of us!)

“Has anyone in your family been in the same job as you?”

“What subjects did you have to study to get your job?”

“What was your dream job when you were younger?” (Another popular question asked to us all)

 

The other scientists were also asked some brilliant questions, here a few examples of those:

“What type of experiments do you do?”

“Do you think we are close to curing cancer?”

“Do you believe in aliens?”

“How many chemicals actually go into a painkiller?”

“What is the most expensive machine you have ever fixed?”

“Have you discovered anything new to man?”

“How did other people inspire you to do your job?”

 

And finally, I’ll leave you with my personal favourite question and blog title inspiration:

“Is work ever fun?”

 

 Post written by: Amber Collings

Murder at the Disco!

The last weekend in July was a busy one for some of our forensic alumni and Dr Helen Tidy who spent their time in the guise of the Forensic Ninja’s at Deer Shed Festival in North Yorkshire. The Forensic Ninja’s were performing in the Science Tent helping children solve “Murder at the Disco” through a set of clues found in the Crime Scene at Club Vortex.

Club Vortex – where time stands still and a medallion robbery goes horribly wrong…

Clues included footwear marks on the dance floor, DNA traces on cups, and fibres snagged on the medallion thieves have attempted to steal. The set was a collaboration between the Forensic Ninja’s and Bradford College, featuring giant Rubik’s cubes and over a 100 pompoms that fluoresced under UV light. Children were invited to investigate the scene, record the clues, then solve the crime in the lab next door to Club Vortex!

Linking footwear marks from the scene to the Suspects Shoes…

By carefully following the clues those that took part, they were able to establish that Vincent Vegas was indeed the thief and murderer – a great way to teach children about forensic science and a lot of fun for the Forensic Ninja’s. Over the weekend more than 350 children were taken through the scene and solved the crime!

Alongside our forensic alumni performing in the tent were Aardman animation (we all love making a Gromit!), electronic masterclasses with Look Mum No Computer, DivKid and Mylar Melodies, as well as Wrek Shop, MadLab, and VR to name a few things. Obviously the Forensics was one of the kids favourites!!

Other activities in the Science Tent included learning to make Gromit with Jim Parkyn from Aardman!

Post written by: Dr Helen Tidy

Project Scene House 3D is GO…

Last week TU Forensics’ Tim James and Amber Collings set to work 3D scanning our magnificent crime scene house with our FARO Focus 350s terrestrial laser scanner (pictured below).

For those of you who keep up-to-date with all things Teesside blogging related, you’ll recognise this piece of kit from the latest episode of the TUBA blog detailing a previous FARO scanning adventure to Vindolanda, led by TUBA’s Rhys Williams (check out that blog post here). Being situated on the Middlesbrough campus, scanning of the crime scene house was less of a journey far away and back in time and more of a pop downstairs this time, but as with any data collection this scene bought a fresh new set of challenges and considerations.

The FARO scanner and tripod

Indoor vs Outdoor scanning

While scanning large, outdoor, open sites like an excavation or a field can be daunting due to their vast size alone, other issues crop up too. For example, repetitive landmarks or an altogether lack of landmarks can cause significant problems. Imagine a lush grassy open field – gorgeous of course but distinctly lacking in any landmarks for the scanner to naturally orient itself in space; all four corners of the field look pretty much the same – green, and well, grassy. Now transport yourself to a dense wooded area, now we have lots of trees to orient ourselves with, right? Well not so much, unless each of those trees is entirely distinct from the next. This is less of a problem for the scanner in terms of actually imaging the scene, but more of a problem for the poor individual trying to register all the different scans together! It’s going to very quickly resemble a particularly cryptic 3D jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box, just a faint memory of the site. 

So how do we get around that? It’s pretty straightforward actually, we use targets. Think chequerboards stuck to trees, or white spheres dotted about at various positions. The use of targets and/or spheres brings with it a whole new level of scanning strategy but perhaps that is another story for another blog post.

Forensically, you would be forgiven for getting twitchy about sticking target objects all around your preserved scene but thankfully they are pretty unnecessary when it comes to scanning indoor scenes like houses. This comes down to the fact that rooms in house are usually filled with stuff; furniture, electrical items, ornaments, etc. each acting as a landmark for quick and easy feature matching. Great! Automatic registration. No need for manual alignment of 50 scans that all look the same! Just don’t move anything…

And that is where the challenge of indoor scanning arises. While all the ‘stuff’ makes for useful landmarks, it also makes for not-so-useful scanning obstacles. Whereas an empty room could be captured with a single central scan perhaps, tables, beds, desks etc. all get in the way. Unlike an x-ray, the laser scanner cannot ‘see-through’ objects, the signal bounces back of the surface of any object it contacts (hence being known as a surface scanning technique). Furthermore, the scanner itself covers 360 degrees laterally, completely spinning around its vertical axis, but only captures 320 degrees longitudinally overhead, leaving a blind spot underneath the scanner tripod (inside which one small adult size sitting human can fit – how convenient!). With that in mind then, lots of scans need to be taken from lots of different positions/angles/heights around the room to get the full picture. Not a particularly easy feat if you find yourself scanning a small, cramped, cluttered scene.

Scanning multiple views is not only time consuming then, but also requires a tricky bit of strategising and increases scene contamination risk. The more shuffling about the room you do with your tripod and scanner the more you risk interfering with the ‘stuff’ in the scene, as we found scanning our very own scenes.

Inside the crime scene house

Being a converted terrace house, the crime scene house facilities we have on the Middlesbrough campus present a realistic residential scene. There’s a hallway leading to a toilet, bedroom, and study on first floor, and a kitchen, living room, and two further bedrooms on the second floor. To generate our mock scene, Tim expertly scattered different evidence types throughout the rooms, from bloody marks and discarded weapons, to drug paraphernalia and digital devices. 

The Crime Scene House itself looking lovely in the glorious sunshine
Tim enjoying the delights of the heatwave while we scan the approach to the house

Overall it took us approximately 8-9 hours of scanning, across two days, to capture the entire scene house and the outdoor area in front of it. Our strategy was to treat the scanning very much like one would approach traditional crime scene photography. That is, starting with the wide scale shots, i.e. capturing the outside area in front of, and leading up to, the front door, before methodically scanning each the approach to and contents of each room.

 But why were we doing this and what are we hoping to achieve?

This wasn’t just a day (or two) out of the office, we promise!  We are hoping to generate a complete 3D model of our scene house, not just because it looks cool, but because it can be a beneficial tool in research and teaching.  

All challenges aside, this technology is becoming extremely useful for many different aspects of criminal investigation, from scene investigation to evidence presentation in court. We hope to use our scene house and scanning technology to conduct research into best practice and scene scanning protocol construction.

Furthermore, we aim to generate interactive teaching materials for our students. Allowing them to virtually perform tasks, such as practising their approach to crime scene photography, using scene models to inform forensic strategy development, or even honing their investigative skills by analysing line of sight and entry/exit routes.

So, what happens next?

Well, now that the scanning is done it’s time to register and align the scans in the FARO software. Then comes the cleaning, making sure the data looks a good as possible, before meshing and creating a fly through video.  

Keep your eyes peeled for future updates on Project scene house 3D – hope you are as excited to see the finished masterpiece as we are!

 

Post Written by: Dr Amber Collings

Welcome!

Hello everyone!

This is our new Teesside University Forensics (TUFs) blog brought to you by:-

    • Dr Graeme Horsman – Covering Digital Forensics.
    • Dr Amber Collings – Covering Forensic Science & Crime Scene Science.

We will be sharing with you insights into our academic, research, teaching and student activities across our Teesside University Forensic Team (TUFT). For our first post we just wanted to tell you a bit more about who we are and what we do!

 

Introducing our three clusters…

Computer & Digital Forensic (CDF) Cluster:-

Our CDF cluster consists of the BSc (Hons) Computer & Digital Forensics run by Mr Ben Findlay and MSc Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigations run by Dr Graeme Horsman. Our activities include computer and mobile investigation, OSINT and online investigations by Mr Asher Rashid, digital evidence legal issues and testing and validation for evidence reliability purposes. 

 

Forensic Science (FS) Cluster:-

Within forensic science we run the following course led by Melanie Brown, BSc (Hons) Forensic Science , as well as the MSc Forensic Science run by Shirley Marshall. We have a super diverse team covering a huge range of forensic expertise; Forensic Biology from Mrs Helen Page, DNA, and body fluid analysis from Melanie and Shirley, Forensic Chemistry, and trace evidence from Dr Helen Tidy; Glass and footwear evidence from Mr Ian Parker; and Anatomy, Forensic Anthropology, Forensic Ecology, and Biomechanics from Dr Amber Collings.

 

Crime Scene Science (CSS) Cluster:-

Within Crime Scene Science we have the BSc (Hons) Crime Scene Science run by Dr Gary Currie and MSc Crime Intelligence and Data Analytics run by Dr Mark Butler. Within this cluster we have a wealth of operational experience from former practitioners in crime scene investigation. Together, Gary, Mark, Ian, Mr Tim James, and Mr Peter Beveridge cover scene investigation and management, the gathering, recording, evaluating and presentation of evidence, as well as the science behind forensic analysis. 

 

 

Keep an  eye out for our next post, in the mean time, please feel free to follow us on Twitter at – @AmberJCollings@GraemeHorsman and @TU_SSED