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Course Offers a Glimpse of Science's Future

KEENE, N.H. 9/15/02 - Thanks in part to the popularity of television crime shows such as CSI, forensic science is being used at Keene State College to introduce non-science majors to science.

About 60 students have enrolled in Investigative Biology, a one-credit course offered for the first time this fall.

According to course coordinators Susan Whittemore, associate professor of biology, and Scott Strong, assistant professor of biology, the aim of the course is to introduce students to the scientific method and scientific concepts using forensic science as the context for their learning.

“This is one of the few times that Hollywood have offered us a useful vehicle that encourages students to want to learn about science,” says Strong. He and Whittemore had been looking for a laboratory course for non-science majors as a way of engaging these students in science. The idea of using forensic science as a hook, says Strong, was cemented in an American Academy of Forensic Science conference the two attended over the summer. Other colleges had used forensic science in this way, says Strong.

Over the next 14 weeks, the students will participate in hands-on workshops in one of the Science Center’s two renovated biology labs. The course will get a little messy and gruesome at times, Whittemore explains.

“The students are going to learn about insects and their life cycles by observing the decomposition of pigs’ feet over two weeks,” she says. The pigs’ feet, which will be hidden on campus, will play the roles of human corpses. As the feet become breeding and feeding grounds for insects and their larvae, students will also get insight into how forensic scientists use insect lifecycles to help determine time of death.

Other topics to be covered during the course include anthropology (studying and comparing human and animal bones), odontology (human teeth), blood-spatter analysis using fake blood (the properties of water), and DNA fingerprinting. The final project requires students to investigate a “crime scene” and to solve a “crime.”

Although the course is being offered as a pilot project, Whittemore and Strong are optimistic that the course will be offered again next fall. Eventually, Whittemore says, she and Strong hope that education majors will be the primary audience for the course.

“This course is really designed to help prospective teachers learn innovative ways of engaging students in science,” she explains. Last fall, Keene State began offering a new General Science degree for students specializing in elementary and middle school education to take as their second major.

The forensic science course is an example of the type of program KSC science departments will be able to offer more frequently once the College’s Science Center expansion and renovation project is completed in 2004-05, explains Gordon Leversee, dean of sciences. “Our vision for this project is to make learning science more visible and accessible to all students, but especially those who want to become scientists and those who want to teach science,” he says. “Our science faculty members are creating engaging courses but are limited by the current Science Center’s lack of space and laboratory facilities. Our ability to offer these types of hands-on courses will be greatly increased when the new Science Center is completed.”


For more information, contact Susan Whittemore, associate professor of biology, at 603-358-2504; Scott Strong, assistant professor of biology, at 603-358-2093; and Gordon Leversee, dean of sciences, at 603-358-2544.

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