For Matt Williams, flying coast to coast for business was a weekly event for the busy sales executive.
Working for a high-profile advertising agency, Williams had a habit of working in his seat throughout the flight, often speaking loudly to himself and at times becoming rude and confrontational.
During a recent flight from Vancouver to New York City, Williams was found dead in the bathroom of the airplane. His throat had been slashed and a broken piece of glass covered in blood was found on the floor near his body.
Although the plane was full, no one heard any signs of a struggle.
This is the fictional scenario that was presented to Grade 12 science students at Pacific Academy in Surrey recently through the Genome BC Geneskool, sponsored by Genome BC Let’s Talk Science, a program designed to create passion and motivation for science in high school students.
Throughout the class, students explored DNA structure, its function and ways to decipher evidence and use crime scene investigative (CSI) techniques to solve the murder mystery.
Led by UBC graduate and Let’s Talk Science volunteer Tianna Koreman, the students were given clues found at the scene along with a list of possible suspects to determine motive and to find the killer.
“I learned about Let’s Talk Science while taking a biology class last year,” said Koreman. “So I signed up and now have volunteered around the province.“
First the students needed to determine the blood type found on the broken piece of mirror, as well as the blood type of each of the people at the murder scene.
Once the blood types were determined, the students began to eliminate possible suspects that didn’t match either the blood type found on the mirror or on the victim.
Working in groups, the students were then given a kiwi fruit and using salt, soap and ethanol, were able to extract DNA from the kiwi as an example of how DNA would be extracted from human cells.
After determining the DNA of the suspects in the scenario, the students then matched that DNA with the blood and evidence found at the crime scene.
Based on all the evidence collected, the students were able to determine that a passenger named Rob had committed the murder, since both his blood type and DNA matched the blood found at the scene.
While crushing the kiwi in order to break down the cells and extract the DNA, Grade 12 students Nicholas Chen and Joshua Lee felt the program was very appealing.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” said Chen about the class. “I want to go into policing and criminology so I found this very interesting.“
The Genome BC Geneskool program has been active in B.C. for almost a decade, with the goal of introducing students to the unique world of genomics and genetics using activities not currently encompassed in the current school curriculum.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the need to promote science to the next generation,” said Dr. Alan Winter, president and CEO of Genome BC Geneskool.
For more information on the program, go to www.genomebc.ca/education