Dr Georgina Meakin, a forensic science researcher at University College London, recently came to give a guest lecture at Bristol as part of a series of events run by the Women in Science society. She spoke about her experience as a woman in forensic science, and fascinated us with some examples of cases and pieces of her research along the way.
Dr Meakin took a somewhat unconventional route into her current career in forensics, choosing to return to university to study for a Masters after already completing a PhD. Hearing about the variety of jobs she’d had in the past was very reassuring that, just as the careers service might tell you, there are many possibilities following on from a science degree!
She also spoke of the #distractinglysexy trend that was sparked by the recent controversy surrounding Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt, and how forensic science isn’t as glamorous as TV shows such as CSI might have us believe. The pictures she showed of the full Personal Protective Equipment everyone in her lab has to wear definitely brought home her point!
Dr Meakin’s work at UCL focuses on “trace DNA”: DNA recovered from a crime scene that is present in tiny amounts and of an unknown biological origin. Lab methods have advanced so far that we are now able to gain reliable sequence profiles from just a few cells’ worth of DNA, which means a detectable bodily fluid doesn’t have to be present to gain possible DNA evidence. However, as Dr Meakin explained, it can be hard to determine whether such trace DNA found at a crime scene was actually from one of the perpetrators, as DNA can be spread through actions such as coughing as well as direct physical contact. Current work from her lab has even found that, for example, if you were to shake someone’s hand and then they were to use a knife in a crime, small traces of your DNA would probably be found on the weapon!
The talk was a great opportunity to hear about a field of science I know I for one hadn’t really thought about as a future option, and Dr Meakin’s enthusiasm both for forensics and promoting women in science really shone through.