The chalk outline of Dr. Priscilla Gannicott’s body, with pools of blood at her wrists, remained in a chemistry lab for four weeks this semester. The ten students taking forensic science had to gather blood, hair, and DNA samples to figure out who her killer was.
Dr. Gannicott, professor of chemistry, is alive and well. In fact, she is having lots of fun with her colleague, Dr. Allison Jablonski, associate professor of biology and biomedical science, as they work through their fourth forensic science class.
The class was the focus of this news report by WDBJ-7.
“Our strengths are well-matched,” Dr. Jablonski said. “You have to have those two cores (chemistry and biology) to offer this course.”
Students are immersed in the science of blood splatter, fingerprints, drug detection, and ballistics, as well as insect and botanical forensics as they learn what it really takes to conduct crime-scene investigations. They will study arson, poisoning, computer forensics, and drug analysis in the coming weeks .
“People come out of this course and say, ‘no way’ or ‘yes, I want to do this,’. There’s no middle ground,” Dr. Jablonski said. “The reality is much different than how TV and media portray it.”
To get evidence that’s admissible in court requires painstaking science that can take a lot of time. “We try to give them the best experience if they do choose to go out and do this for a living,” Dr. Gannicott said. “We use instruments that you would use in the real world.”
The course features a variety of guest lecturers, from on and off campus. The most famous visitor, who gave a lecture to the class in 2007, was Dr. William Bass, a forensic anthropologist renowned for his research on human bones and decomposition. He taught at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and still plays an active research role at the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, which he founded. The facility is more popularly known as “The Body Farm,” a name used by crime author Patricia Cornwell in a novel of the same name, which drew inspiration from Dr. Bass and his work.
This semester students have heard from LC professors in physics, entomology, biology, and anatomy, as well as from an assistant medical examiner from Roanoke, Va. They will visit LC’s cadaver lab and the state’s Forensic Science Lab in Roanoke.
“I think the cool thing is it’s very multidisciplinary,” Dr. Gannicott said. “We have so much fun creating these scenarios.”
Apart from the blood, the students have other clues, including hair and fingerprints, to determine who killed the body outlined on the floor. It turns out that Dr. Jablonski did it.