Peering through a window, we can see a female body lying face down on the floor. A smear of blood is visible on her outflung arm, and her mass of curly blonde hair tumbles to the carpet. An upturned wine glass indicates that there may have been a struggle. In the next room a second body is found — a man this time — and in the kitchen, yet another. Upstairs are three more.
Into this veritable house of horror rushes a group of 30 or so excited year nine (aged 13 and 14) pupils from Cheslyn Hay high school in the town of Walsall, England. Everyone is kitted out in white paper crime-scene bodysuits and face-masks, and in groups of six, they start to document the details of each “murder”.
It’s all a bit chaotic at first, admittedly — though the pupils may have seen detective serials on television, the quietly methodical nature of crime-scene investigation that the actors try to emulate is perhaps too much to expect on such a thrillingly gory school trip.
“Remember, it’s photographs first, then forensics, then fingerprints,” reminds one of the activity leaders from Think Forensic, the organisation leading the activity, in partnership with Staffordshire University’s forensic science department.
It’s been funded by Aimhigher — the government initiative to widen participation in higher education — and the hope is that by participating in a day that demonstrates such exciting and relevant uses of science, more children will understand that their chemistry, biology and physics lessons can lead to fascinating careers in sectors they might never have thought of.
“You need to get the science in early and show children that it has so many uses and that it’s not boring,” says Jodie Dunnett, forensics lecturer at Staffordshire University.
As admissions tutor for her department, she says that her subject is proving increasingly popular with applicants, but that Staffordshire University — while running a heavily science-based pure forensics degree — has now developed a BA in forensic investigation specifically aimed at people fascinated by the subject but who don’t have a science background, “which has really taken off”.