Jana Plotkin, “Forensic Science Laboratory Skills”
Mentor: Emily Middleton, Anthropology
Oral Presentation Block 2
The purpose of our project is to build a working forensic laboratory space and ground truth current DNA methods in matching known to unknown profiles in a forensic context to develop teaching protocols that give students the basic laboratory skills needed to acquire a paying research assistant position within a clinical research setting focusing on DNA extraction, sequencing, and PCR. Most clinical research assistant positions, even entry level, require prior laboratory experience. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a major shift in how laboratory science has been taught over the last two years and left many students without the proper in-person training to be eligible to apply for these jobs. The workforce has strong demand for laboratory scientists, and our research aims to develop teaching protocols that will provide students in the forensic science certificate program with the chance to learn hands on skills necessary for post-degree employment. Some of our main focuses are on DNA sequencing, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. We modified standard laboratory procedures for a skill-building teaching setting by designing learning opportunities that scaffold the acquisition of laboratory techniques. Because the best way to become proficient in laboratory skills is to use them, for the second semester of the project in my mentoring capacity I am showing students how to handle glassware, pipettes, microscopes, and other instruments involved in the processing and extraction of DNA material. We started with basic lab skills and are building upon that foundation to get into amplification of DNA product by PCR and other methods such as quantification. Our long-term goals include incorporating this project within the Forensic Science certification program in the form of semester-long internships. There is a full-force interest in solving crimes, not only for the police but for the families of the victims. There are not enough facilities that can do genomic DNA extraction, and because those cases are continuing to pile up and collect dust. To make a difference we must utilize the resources we have available, and right now that is what we are trying to do. The real-life significance of this project is that, in addition to training students to enter the laboratory science workforce, we are developing links with the Milwaukee Police Department to work on DNA cold cases. We therefore have the possibility of being a resource for not only the city of Milwaukee but for other neighboring counties to help in their search for genomic information from criminal cases that could potentially aid in solving unsolved cases, while providing students the opportunity to learn laboratory techniques on real-world casework.