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.
“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.”