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University's Forensic Science Program featured in nationwide Kids' Science Challenge competition

October 21, 2009

Judy Holmes
(315) 443-8085

It’s a classic “who done it.” The prize-winning brownies are missing and it’s up to kids across the nation to learn to use science to solve “The Brownie Caper.” The mystery is part of the 2010 Kids’ Science Challenge (Year 2) “Detective Science” category. The category features the Forensic Science Program in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Onondaga County Wallie Howard Jr. Center for Forensic Sciences and four students from Central New York schools.

Science ChallengeThe Kids’ Science Challenge online competition encourages third- through sixth-grade students to submit experiments and problems for scientists to solve in any of three categories. The competition is supported by the National Science Foundation and presented by “Pulse of the Planet,” a radio program broadcast to more than 320 public and commercial stations around the world. The contest began Oct. 1 and continues through March 1, 2010.

“Detective Science,” created by SU and Wallie Howard scientists in collaboration with “Pulse of the Planet,” challenges kids to use forensic science tools to solve a real-life mystery or to create a mystery for others to solve.

“Solving mysteries is a fascinating way to engage children in science,” says College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean James T. Spencer. “A mystery needs to be solved; forensic science provides students an opportunity to apply scientific concepts, careful observation and critical thinking—in short, the scientific method—to arrive at a reasonable solution. It’s science by stealth.”

The Detective Science challenge includes video demonstrations of kid-friendly forensic science experiments that can be done at home or in the classroom, which were developed by Spencer, founder of SU’s Forensic Science Program, and high school science teacher Tyna Gaylord. Gaylord is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Science Teaching and teaches chemistry and forensic science at Indian River High School in Philadelphia, N.Y.

In addition to Gaylord and Spencer, the videos include seventh-graders Derenique Barnes of Liverpool Middle School and Jeff Owens of Manlius Pebble Hill School; sixth-grader Allison Strang of Emerson J. Dillon Middle School, Phoenix; and fifth-grader Devin J. Heise of Lowville Academy and Central School District. The demonstrations were filmed in the forensic science laboratory in SU’s Life Sciences Complex. 

The Detective Science challenge also includes videos of scientists from the Wallie Howard Center demonstrating the tools they use in their work. Participating scientists are Dwayne Wisbey, document examiner; David Tate, latent print examiner; and Tamara Danner, trace evidence forensic chemist. Senior investigator Mo Lupia is featured collecting evidence in “The Brownie Caper” video.

“We are delighted to participate in the nationwide Kids’ Science Challenge,” says Kathleen Corrado, director of laboratories for the Onondaga County Center for Forensic Sciences Laboratories. “The project is a wonderful way to get children excited about science and help them apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations.”

SU’s Media Action Center for Sustainable Science presented the initial proposal for the Detective Science challenge to “Pulse of the Planet” producers. The Media Action Center, funded with a Chancellor’s Leadership Grant, serves as a national clearinghouse to connect science journalists to scientific research and scholarship.

SU’s Forensic Science Program is an interdisciplinary program based in The College of Arts and Sciences, which offers an undergraduate minor and a master’s degree. The master’s program is one of the University’s largest, graduate-level collaborative efforts, involving four schools and colleges (The College of Arts and Sciences, the Maxwell School, the College of Law and the College of Human Ecology) joining with the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY Upstate Medical University and the Onondaga County Wallie Howard Jr. Center for Forensic Sciences.

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