Forensic science uncovered

 

Fans of TV crime shows like CSI or Silent Witness should get down to the Natural History Museum tonight for the chance to suit-up and try their hand as a forensic science investigator.

Crime scene

Entomologists at the museum have set up a mock crime scene - complete with arc-lights, screens, a (thankfully fake) decomposing corpse and plenty of writhing Greenbottle maggots - as part of Science Uncovered: A Europe-wide event offering the public a rare insight into what goes on behind the public galleries.

More than a hundred museums and institutes across the EU will be throwing open their doors to mark the event tonight, with some 300 researchers at the NHM staying late to discuss their work, answer questions, and give people a tour around the warren of backroom stores and laboratories.

The evidential value of entomology may come as no surprise to lovers of crime fiction, but the fact that it is scientists at the Natural History Museum - more normally associated with the fossilised remains of long dead plants and animals - who are pushing the boundaries of modern forensic science, comes as something of a revelation.

"The entomologists and forensic anthropologists here at the museum are among the leading researchers in the field," says Dr Martin Hall. "We regularly help the police to determine how long someone has been dead. Insects are fantastic for answering that question."

And if dead and decomposing bodies aren't your thing you can test your knowledge of the rules of taxonomic nomenclature by suggesting new names for five species of deep-sea worm, recently discovered around hydrothermal vents off Antarctica.

"The name of a species is very important," says NHM Zoologist Dr Adrian Glover, "it connects all the information that is known about a species and is unique. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to name a new species."

There's plenty on offer for the more traditional naturalist too with a panel of experts on hand to help identify that fearsome spider you've cornered in a matchbox, the interesting rock or fossil you picked up on the beach, or potential meteorite that's been sitting on the mantle piece.

Antiques Roadshow eat your heart out.

 
Tom Feilden, Science correspondent, Today programme Article written by Tom Feilden Tom Feilden Science correspondent, Today

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