Project Lead The Way biomedical science students at Chaminade Julienne met with the city of Dayton’s chief forensic toxicologist just days after classmates happened upon the scene of a suspicious “death” found in one of the new CJ STEMM Center labs.
If this sounds like an ominous start to the school year, don’t be alarmed. The planned exercise is one of the innovative, hands-on activities teacher Amanda Ooten uses to engage students during the early weeks of her Principles of Biomedical Sciences course.
And connecting students to a professional in the field only helped bring the lesson to life.
Dr. Laureen J. Marinetti, D-ABFT, head of the toxicology staff for the Montgomery County Coroner's Office and the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab, presented an “Intro to Crime Scene Investigation” in front of science classes on Sept. 4 and 6. She explained how toxicologists put principles of chemistry and mathematics to work in order to extract traces of drugs from samples like bodily fluids collected at the scene of a crime.
“It’s not like what you see on the television show CSI,” Dr. Marinetti told students. Toxicologists work with law enforcement officials, coroners, medical doctors and others to perform one specialized part of the investigation process, she said. Results can take weeks or even months, but are essential to pinpointing a cause of death and uncovering other unforeseen factors at play.
Putting aside most of the made-for-TV myths and picking up the trail of their own fictional case, students worked with the knowledge they had to piece together clues at the scene of the staged death of a “victim” known as Anna Garcia in the weeks leading up to Dr. Marinetti’s visit. Caution tape sealed off a corner of the newly renovated CJ STEMM Center classroom where a chaotic mess of fake blood, hair, pills, a syringe and a muddy shoe track lay scattered.
“We came into class and discovered the scene, then had to take our own notes and come up with a hypothesis of what happened,” said freshman Joshua Hughes. Working in small groups, students gathered evidence and tested the unknown substances found at the scene against known substances using “indicators” like iodine, he said.
“The pill we sampled turned out to be aspirin,” Joshua said.
PBS Crime Scene
The Anna Garcia case is designed to be an open and ongoing investigation, meant to serve as a catalyst throughout the school year for stirring up inquiry and sparking discussion among teacher and classmates on practical biomedical topics.
Students research and analyze the fictional case of victim Anna Garcia.
“Now we are making our own tests, like a blood spatter test, to answer other questions about the crime,” Joshua said. “Eventually, we will propose a conclusion to the events we suspect led up to Anna’s death and try to solve the mystery.”
Students enrolled in PLTW biomedical sciences and engineering courses at CJ can earn up to 12 hours of college credit over their four years of high school -- a terrific way to get a head start on higher education while exploring future career possibilities.
Those interested in pursuing forensic science should attend a nationally accredited school, obtain at least a bachelor’s degree (or a master’s degree or doctorate), complete an internship as an undergraduate, and be prepared to relocate Dr. Marinetti recommended. The job market is good, she said, especially for someone willing to move.
“I wouldn’t trade my job for anything else,” said Marinetti, a native of Michigan. “This career field is one that is constantly evolving as new drugs and new trends come along.”