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CSI: Boston

New BU Citizen’s CSI Academy trains amateur detectives

| From BU Today | By Vicky Waltz

Citizen’s CSI Academy, sponsored by the School of Medicine’s department of anatomy and neurobiology, takes students “behind police lines” to solve mock crimes. Photo courtesy of the Holliston Police Department

Residents of the sleepy town of Holliston, Mass., shouldn’t be too alarmed if they notice any suspicious activities in the months ahead. This winter, 30 acres of land along Woodland Street will become the classroom for Citizen’s CSI Academy, a forensic science program sponsored by the BU School of Medicine’s department of anatomy and neurobiology.

Students enrolled in Citizen’s CSI Academy will venture beyond the yellow crime-scene tape to find themselves embroiled in mock criminal investigations, says Tara Moore, director of BU’s forensic anthropology program and a MED assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology. The 12-week course will focus on a range of topics, from DNA analysis and forensic anthropology to mass disaster and crisis management and forensic pathology. “They’ll be no bodies involved — nothing dangerous or gory,” Moore says. “It’s all very bench-top science.”

The academy was designed to showcase two new graduate programs at MED: one in biomedical forensic science and one in forensic anthropology. “We have quite a multidisciplinary staff," Moore says, "and we wanted to put together a program that would take us out of the school and into the community.”

Faculty members from MED’s forensic anthropology and biomedical forensic science programs will collaborate with federal and state law enforcement, as well as with the Holliston Police and the school system, throughout the course. The program kicks off in February, with a different topic explored each week.

“The sessions are largely hands-on,” says Moore. Students will learn to dust for fingerprints, lift footprints from the dirt and snow, and examine tire impressions. They will learn about trace evidence by collecting samples of fibers, thread, and hair and about DNA analysis. “We’ll be looking at lots of evidence under microscopes,” she says. “But we might also excavate a couple of plastic skeletons.”

The course will culminate with a mock investigation that will allow students to employ all of the skills they’ve learned during the weeks leading up to the final crime.

“The scenario could be anything from a mock breaking-and-entering to a stolen car,” Moore says.

For now, the course is open only to residents of Holliston. The land includes a ranch house with a small classroom; last year an FBI team trained there before investigating the 2007 collapse of the I-35W Mississippi Bridge in Minneapolis.

“We want to be good neighbors and share what we’re doing with the people of Holliston,” Moore says. “We’ve been holding forensic classes out there for several years now, and we thought it was time to give something back to the community.”

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