Tech Biology Professor Reiss Invited To Present Poster at Science Education Conference

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., March 18, 2009 – New Mexico Tech biology professor Dr. Rebecca Reiss will present a poster at the 2009 National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE) Washington Symposium and Capitol Hill Poster Session on March 30 and 31.

Reiss’ poster will summarize the evolution of CSI:DNA, her mini-course class that teaches students the basics of forensic science, evidence collection and DNA sequencing. She will present information about the program from a content and a funding perspective. During this symposium, Reiss will have the opportunity to meet with the New Mexico congressional delegation.

The Washington Symposium and Capitol Hill Poster Session is designed to serve the needs of alumni in the science education community. The 2009 event will focus on science literacy, particularly the role of the citizen scientist in our society.

Reiss said the crime scene investigation, or CSI, genre is a powerful education tool.

“Mysteries are fashionable entertainment and television is crowded with crime scene investigation shows that combine this literary genre with advanced scientific procedures,” she said. “The mixture of real science and mock drama makes CSI:DNA the most popular offering of the New Mexico Tech summer high-school mini-course program.”

CSI:DNA was made possible by a 1998 NSF instrumentation grant that funded the purchase of a Prism 310 Genetic Analyzer, which is used for DNA sequencing and forensics. Law enforcement labs in New Mexico donated expired reagents, making it affordable for students learn about basic DNA structure by doing genotyping experiments.

“Since CSI shows familiarize the general public with forensic science, they provide a bridge that can engage students of all ages in science,” Reiss said.

This exercise was incorporated into the undergraduate Genetics Lab course in 1999. In 2003, a high-school teacher in the Masters of Science for Teachers program at New Mexico designed a course in which high-school students learn about forensic genetics, then apply this knowledge to a mock crime scene; thus, CSI:DNA was born. The web site infohost.nmt.edu/~biology/CSIWeb, was launched in 2007 to encourage the inclusion of forensic DNA activities in other classrooms. In 2008, the Applera Foundation donated $30,000 to develop a virtual CSI:DNA site that will use animated graphics and virtual reality programming to simulate forensic DNA analysis.

Although the original proposal focused on using DNA sequencing as an example of a multidisciplinary approach to education, forensic DNA analysis captures the attention of students.

– NMT –