Group provides eye-opening introduction to forensics

Scattered newspapers, a dusty shoe print and a suspicious half-eaten peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich greeted fifth-graders at Crawford Elementary School on May 10, but the mess wasn’t due to a lazy janitor. CU Anschutz Medical Campus students, postdocs and faculty planted the classic whodunit-like clues as part of a lesson plan aimed at engaging the youth in forensics science.

The event was organized by Young Hands in Science, a CU Anschutz-sponsored club dedicated to bringing science to Aurora community youth. Developed by postdocs a few years ago, the lesson plans range from health and chemistry to forensics and meteorology with the goal of attracting more students into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions.

“This is a great way to show students science is much more than a textbook,” said Sarah Farabi, PhD, RN, a postdoc in the Department of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, who helped organize the event. “We want them to get interested at a young age, and really keep that passion.”

Hands-on science

For the Crawford fifth-graders, the case was split into three sections: examining a crime scene and practicing finger printing; preparing a wet slide with cheek cells; and looking under the microscope and extracting DNA from potential culprits.

“I can’t believe we get to extract our DNA,” one student said. “I thought we needed to use needles and draw blood.”

At the DNA extraction station, students followed a strict protocol to eliminate themselves as suspects. Using common household ingredients, including Dawn soap and Gatorade, the students extracted DNA from their cheek cells and placed them in tubes to bring home.

Students giggled, grimaced and expressed their disgust for their floating squiggles of DNA. Nevertheless, they seemed to have a lot of fun while learning foundational scientific principles.

“Wow,” said a student, as she squinted to examine her creation. “This is pretty cool.”

Young Hands in Science

The Young Hands in Science program immerses the university in the community, provides teaching experience for postdocs and graduate students, and offers an engaging learning experience for area youth.

“The idea was to help kids learn about science, but also to have the postdocs develop valuable communication skills,” said Farabi of her interest in the group. “I have always wanted to help get kids interested in science and make them realize it’s fun. I also believe that engagement with the community benefits everyone.”

“Working with children is amazing,” said Farabi. “They are so full of energy, and their enthusiasm is off the charts. I love how interested they are in learning. After each event, I leave with a renewed inspiration.”

Teachers interested in having Young Hands in Science come to their classrooms can email younghands@ucdenver.edu.

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