Witness at the crime scene

10th January 2003 at 00:00
Students are invited to become forensic scientists for this year's Faraday lectures, says Yolanda Brooks

From fingerprints to fibres, DNA sampling to toxicology screens, the science of crime-fighting has never been more popular.

For many years, Quincy ME fought a lone battle against the prime-time cops of Starsky and Hutch, The Sweeney, The Professionals and Miami Vice. While traditional cop shows had guns, flash cars and chases, Quincy, the sensible pathologist, solved murders with a hunch, which he backed up with scientific evidence.

Today, it seems there are more pathologists and lab rats solving murder on the small screen than there are detectives. CSI Investigation, Waking the Dead and Silent Witness are just a few recent examples of the pathologist as crime fighter. Even the Forensic Science Service - part of the Home Office - has a television listings section for forensic science addicts. Murder it seems is still popular, but the emphasis now is less on the mayhem and more on detection.

Fascination with crime scenes and lab-based detection has had a direct influence on this year's Faraday Lecture - Fighting Crime with Science. "This lecture has really captured everyone's imagination and schools are very enthusiastic about it," says Faraday Officer Christie Picton. "There are so many television programmes now and teachers are interested in them from the academic side and pupils also enjoy these programmes, but the curriculum doesn't cover this aspect of science."

Fighting Crime with Science, organised by the Institution of Electrical Engineers and sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will feature a double-act of young scientists who have been selected for their presentation skills as well as their scientific knowledge.

Written by Tony McHale, the lead scriptwriter of the BBC favourite Silent Witness, the lecture will take place at a hypothetical murder scene. With the help of the presenters and two forensic scientists, the audience will be encouraged to take part in some interactive detection using scientific principles to help solve the crime.

Dr Ilya Eigenbrot, son of a former forensic psychiatrist for the Russian police and a science communication manager at Imperial College, London, is one of the presenters for the event. He says: "It is totally unlike a typical science lecture. In fact, I would use the term science show. I am expecting to excite and entertain young people."

Although the show will have natural appeal for keen science students, it is also intended to pull in science phobics, says Ilya. "I have never done anything like this and I hope it will show people who aren't particularly interested in science that it can be interesting and exciting."

The Faraday Lecture began in 1924 with a lecture on worldwide radio telegraphy. It was started to provide a showcase for the latest technological advances of the day; in recent years, smart technology in the home, digital television and communications technology have been the subjects up for discussion.

Even if students in the audience aren't tempted into choosing a career in science or technology, Christie Picton hopes the lectures will inspire a greater appreciation of the subject: "We aim to open students' eyes to science and technology and show how it infiltrates every aspect of our lives."

Aimed at 14 to 16-year-olds, the lecture will be given between January and March in Crawley, Birmingham, Harrogate, London, Cardiff, Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester. Most venues will present the lecture three times a day and entrance is free. Day-time lectures for Birmingham, London and Manchester are sold out but evening places are still available. School party bookings: Tel: 01438 767 254 orEmail: bookings@iee.org.ukwww.faraday.org.ukRelated websites: www.iee.org www.epsrc.ac.uk www.forensic.gov.uk

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