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SU Project Advance forensic seminars probe crime, fungi

October 11, 2010

Jim Reilly

Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA) brings two of Europe’s foremost forensic botanists to the United States this week for SUPA’s Forensic Science fall seminars. Patricia Wiltshire and David Hawksworth will be the featured speakers at the downstate seminar Wednesday, Oct. 13, on Long Island and at the upstate seminar Friday, Oct. 15, at Drumlins Country Club in Syracuse.

The professional development seminars are offered free of charge to SUPA faculty currently teaching Syracuse University’s “Forensic Science” (CHE 113) class in their high schools.

Wiltshire and Hawksworth also will speak about “the curious connections between fungi and criminal investigations” at a public lecture at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 14, in room 001 of the Life Sciences Complex at SU. This talk is co-sponsored by SU’s Dialogues in Forensic Science program. SUPA teachers are invited to bring their students to Thursday’s talk.

“Patricia and David have done the seminal work to define the emerging field of forensic botany and mycology,” said James T. Spencer, Meredith Professor and associate dean for science, mathematics and research in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Their expertise spans traditional biological disciplines into areas of application to the world of criminal investigations.”

Wiltshire, of the University of Aberdeen, has worked on more than 200 cases, including some of Britain’s most notorious murders, such as the Soham schoolgirl murders and the Ipswich prostitute murders. Her specialty is palynology, the study of plant pollen. Hawksworth, of the University of Gloucestershire, is a prolific author who specializes in the ecology of fungi, particularly those forming lichens.

In an article published this summer in Forensic Science International, the two—who are married—detailed how molds, mushrooms and other fungi can provide valuable evidence of location, time of death, cause of death and other key details of a crime.

“I would like to show how ecology and botany have helped in many aspects of criminal investigation and, more specifically, the role of palynological analysis,” Wiltshire says of her presentation. She and Hawksworth plan to share case studies to demonstrate both the benefits and challenges of the evolving discipline of forensic mycology.

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