WhoDunnit? Calgary

Let’s Solve a Murder – WhoDunnit?

Feb. 20, Calgary – Have you ever wondered what it takes to use DNA to figure out who that person is? Well, this past Wednesday, students at Vista Virtual School (VVS) Calgary campus learned exactly that.

Let’s Talk Science visited the campus and walked students through analyzing DNA samples, how to replicate base pairings, and how to analyze results—just like they do in labs, on TV shows, and for courtroom evidence.

I learned a lot of things about DNA testing, and to know if you’re related or not and how to compare that,” said VVS student Mariam S.

Walking students through forensic science and biology concepts, Kevin and Sakariye (of Let’s Talk Science) presented how to sample and replicate DNA, and use sequencing to figure out relationships between family members and leading to determining a prime suspect.

“We have many lab simulation activities in our science courses (at VVS), but they cannot accurately replicate actually performing a lab with real equipment,” said science teacher, Shelley Rizzo. “We try to get the full-time senior high science students into real lab situations when we can, so they can actually manipulate equipment and see how lab results can be accurate or inaccurate based on the quality of student performance.”


Showing how results can be contaminated and techniques to fine-tune analysis, including how studying up to 16 samples leads to a higher probability, shows how science is used with real-world examples. In this case study, students looked at five sample replications and it became clear who the final suspect was (and investigative organizations like the American FBI use a minimum of 16 replications to ensure the results are accurate).

“We have several courses which discuss forensic studies content and DNA. Biology 30 and the Forensic Studies 25/35 courses all refer to the concepts practiced in this Let’s Talk Science event,” said Rizzo.

Biology Exposure 

Let’s Talk Science helps expose students to the things that they really don’t see,” said presenter Sakariye Mohamed—who attended VVS prior to entering the University of Calgary for a science degree. “Especially when you reach grade 11 or 12, science is more-based on textbook learning—and sometimes there are limited lab environments and watching videos, but (hands-on experiences) binds you into what’s really cool about science—the idea of going into a lab and finding answers for yourself.


By letting students explore with the actual tools they would use in real life, as well as being able to take the concepts they have learned in school, it allows students to further increase their understanding and analysis of complex concepts and the skills needed to explore careers in science.

“Right now I’m doing Biology 20,” said Miriam. “So I learned that this is actually what you do in college and university, but they simplify it so that somebody in Science 10 or Biology 20 would understand it. I enjoyed it a lot!”

Hands-on and Real-world

Part of the session included real-world examples and studies where students learned actual cases in how DNA has helped secure and even overturn convictions (such as David Milgaard, Guy Paul Morin, and even OJ Simpson).

“I want to help people re-discover this aspect of science where you are coming in with questions and are leaving with answers,” said Mohamed. “It’s not just the concepts you learn from a textbook, there are real-world applications to what you’re learning.”

Posted on: February 25th, 2019
Sakariye Mohamed - Working Towards a Career in Science

As a former student with Vista Virtual School (VVS), Sakariye Mohamed is using the skills he learned with VVS as he pursues a science degree at the University of Calgary. In addition to this, he’s part of Let’s Talk Science, a national program aimed at engaging students (children and youth) and educators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Locally with the University of Calgary, Sakariye volunteers his time to help educate students across the region.

“Vista Virtual School prepared me for my post-secondary career (I’m in my second year right now),” says Sakariye. “I took all three sciences with the school and it gave me the opportunity to explore my options.

“I was able to talk with our academic counsellors and the other teachers, and they helped me learn what I might be interested in based on how I was doing and from the classes I liked and was interested in.”

And he uses those skills to help when he presents to students interested in learning more about science.

“Let’s Talk Science helps expose students to the things that they really don’t see.”

Working with DNA, he was able to present challenging concepts and hands-on experiments to current VVS students through the Let’s Talk Science program.

Prepared for University

“Going to university was a shift,” he says. “I was well-prepared to engage in independent learning, and the kind of lifestyle of what I needed to do to stay on top of things.

“Because it (learning through VVS) goes more into an independent study than in a conventional classroom, it is more about me and how I can better study. (For example, one of my classes has over 400 students right now and you are not really studying with 400 students.)”

How to Study

It is those study skills that have helped in his learning at the University of Calgary.

“Vista Virtual helped me, in that it gave me the sense of what works for me in terms of studying and what doesn’t. And that helped me transcend into what is this next chapter in my life.”