A hotel in Co Laois was turned into a mocked-up crime scene last night to teach the public more about forensic science, as part of Science Week.
Dr Brian Gibson from Forensic Science Ireland, which hosted the event along with Midlands Science at the Killeshin Hotel in Portlaoise, says that with so much interest in crime dramas and documentaries, there can be a misunderstanding among the public that modern day forensic science can solve every crime.
"There's a perception sometimes that forensic science can solve all the questions in the crime world, and just that one test result or one answer solves and indicates who did whatever the activity was," he explains.
"It's important that people understand there's a lot of interpretation. You have to understand the limitations and there's a grey area, it's not a black and white field of study."
Amateur super sleuths attending last night's event were taught about looking for clues and paying attention to the details found at the crime scene. They helped solve the fictional crime using a series of QR codes.
"It's a mocked-up crime scene with a few different clues to show people the variety of what can happen at a crime scene," explains Dr Gibson.
"It was designed to challenge people's biases a bit in terms of sometimes people can form an idea, or an opinion of what has happened so that makes them blind to evidence or information or data that's available."
He said it was important that the public understands how the science works, as well as its limitations. "So when they see it on the TV or the news and court reports that they can maybe understand a little bit more that the original headlines."
Mr Gibson said that in the court system, juries are well directed about this. "There's defence, there's the prosecution and a lot of expert witnesses there. The limitations of evidence, evidence is challenged and probed and the limitations will be explained.
He said forensic science was an interesting field because it covers so many disciplines.
"From the methods that would have been described in a Sherlock Holmes book 120 and 130 years ago, in terms of trace evidencing glass and footprints and foot marks and fingerprints and handwriting examinations, a lot of those very traditional evidence types still exists and its still very informative," he said.
He said the most recent growth in the science was around DNA and molecular biology and the next area of evolution would be next-generation sequencing.
"Where you're looking at very large amounts of data analytics associated with it, it is very useful for looking at very degraded and challenging samples for example body identification in mass disasters," he said.
"The technology is evolving now to give us a better chance of getting some information from those more challenging evidence types."