- the Governor of Mountjoy jail John Lonergan
- A famous forensic pathologist who has to remain unnamed
- Prof Niall Moyna on the interface between health and exercise
- Steve Smith, a returning graduate, making waves in sports medicine
- Billy Walsh, Ireland's boxing coach
- Des Higgins Ireland's most cited scientist
Like any profession there will be a range of abilities between Dr Skuse and the perfect competence of TV fiction. Prof nic Daéid pointed out that, in her profession it matters . . . rather more than if, say, your HR department cannot get contracts out on time and then sends them to the wrong people. Sending the wrong people to a lifetime is gaol is clearly a more serious issue. One of the skills you need as a top-gun forensic scientist is the ability to explain your findings and their scientific basis to ordinary people, and the pace and presentation of 'our' talk was right on the button: accessible to a raw 1st Year and informative to a professional biologist. FSs can be experts not only in blood-splatter, DNA identification and the chemistry of illicit drugs but also in the chemistry of combustible materials. This last is interesting because identifying how/where a fire started could be the basis for a criminal conviction but seeing how the fire spread is more about building regulations, health&Safety and public good.
Good FSs continue the traditions of Sherlock Holmes in having a technical expertise in written materials. But 70% of their work in this field is puzzling out what was written on the sheet of paper above the one which has been retained as evidence. That doesn't require any sophisticated instruments, nor does matching a footprint in two different locations, but both can be useful in cracking a case. At the techie end of the tool-box, there are 8 different protocols for making methamphetamine, each of which will leave a characteristic trace among the impurities that come down with the drug. To those in the trade, this chemical signature is almost as a good as a finger-print for identifying the lab where the drug was made. How do they know this? They make serial batches of the drug using each protocol and then run the results through analytical instruments and keep pictures of the output as 'standards'. Using similar standards, you can determine whether a fire was caused by unleaded petrol or kerosene or LPG which will tell a lot about whether arson is likely. That's criminal, but nic Daéid's people carried out research to show that 100% of boys and 80% of girls failed to wake up when a fire-alarm went off in their bedroom! That's a vital piece of data to inform public policy, parental behaviour and fire-alarm manufacture.
But perhaps the most worrying aspect of forensic chemistry is not identifying known substances - MDMA, gasoline, cocaine, haemoglobin, semen - at crime scenes but the ballooning number of chemicals which are new to the experience of the scientists involved. If there are no standards and no standard protocols it is really difficult to stand up in court and stand over your findings. 350 new psycho-active substances NSPs have come on the market in the last few years and people in clubs and pubs are putting them in their mouths or up their noses without knowing how they act, where they are made or what they are cut with. That's a worry on many levels.
You can hear Niamh nic Daéid talking about similar material in a BBC interview. And she tweets. I particularly like her frequent use of the CEM Joad phrasing "It all depends on what you mean by . . .": until we know what we're talking about, there is very little real science going down.
More Women in Science.