Crocs DNA and chemistry. A university student’s placement at forensic science

04 December 2013
The Forensic Science Branch (FSB) has successfully hosted Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science student Nicole Brenner for three months as part of Charles Darwin University’s Placement Program.
Forensic Chemist Kelsey McGorman and Nicole Brenner readying a crocodile skull for confirmatory forensic testing in a death investigation
Click to View Images

“My time at the Forensic Science Branch was fantastic,” Nicole said as she reflected on her stay. “I count myself very lucky to have been given the chance to experience the everyday tasks and challenges of a forensic scientist.”

Nicole is a third year student studying for her Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science; she commenced her three day a week posting to the FSB in August 2013. Nicole was selected as the inaugural student in the new program, she “loved every moment” of her placement.

The opportunity for the joint program arose from a meeting between the University’s Program Coordinator Senior Lecturer Dr Uba Nwose and Des Carroll, Director of the Forensic Science Branch, late in 2011; where they discussed the potential for ties between the two organisations.

“Scientists thrive on building knowledge and understanding,” said Des Carroll. “Links between busy operational laboratories and universities are extremely important, in this case allowing working scientists to oversee research that will ultimately benefit the community via improved forensic science outcomes.”

As well as gaining an understanding of the range of forensic testing within the Biology and Chemistry Units, Nicole was tasked with a project under the supervision of Senior Forensic Biologist Dr Jo Lee. This collaboration sought to investigate the potential impact of new and more sensitive DNA technology on the choice of laboratory consumables used to generate DNA profiles; a vital protection against inadvertent contamination events. Results were recently presented to Branch staff and augmented the Biology Unit’s quality assurance programs by adding stringency to an already tight regime.

“Everything I learned during my placement, including the amount of care when handling samples in order to prevent contamination, will benefit me in any kind of laboratory setting I might work in the years to come,” said Nicole.

“Personally, this experience enhanced my fascination about forensic science; I can definitely see myself going in this direction in the future.”

With strong and successful mutual benefits cemented, the program will continue with other student placements being arranged in 2014. Additionally, the Director of FSB has been invited to sit on the Course Advisory Committee for the Medical Laboratory Sciences stream, further bolstering a healthy relationship between the NT Police and Charles Darwin University.