Have you ever watched popular crime shows like Bones or Crime Scene Investigation, maybe even Dexter, and wondered what was really going on behind the scenes? During the two-week summer pre-college program with Professor Stacey Matarazzo-Rine running from July 9-July 22, 2017, you will have the opportunity to work in a university laboratory and explore the fields of forensic anthropology and science with hands-on experiments with human skeletons! Have more questions about what that will entail? We had a conversation with Professor Matarazzo, exploring the program, her current research, and what it takes to be a successful forensic anthropologist. The transcription of that conversation is below.
An investigation by the Bioarachaeology and Forensic Anthropology Field School at UMass Amherst.
My interests in Anthropology actually began with a focus on evolution. I was examining questions of early human locomotion using skeletal biology and kinesiology techniques. Forensic work is a great way to practically apply this knowledge and understanding of the human skeleton.
What are you current research interests and projects?
I'm continuing my research into questions of early human/ape locomotion by examining the morphology of hand bones (manual phalanges & metacarpals) of a number of extinct apes.
In the realm of forensics, I find myself increasingly reading into the use of bugs in forensic cases: not only as a method to determine time of death, but also their ability to potentially tell if a decedent had toxins in their system. Forensic Entomology (study of insects) is one of the topics we will touch upon this summer!
What are your goals and expectations for the pre-college summer program?
My main goal is that students leave with a deeper understanding of forensic anthropology than they may currently have based on popular shows like Bones and CSI. We will work together to learn about the human skeleton and how information we "see" in it can help identify someone or get a criminal off the street.
What do you think is the most exciting part about the two-week pre-college program you are hosting this summer?
I think the students will be really excited to participate in the many hands-on lab exercises, and to work together in our final "lab" to process a mock crime scene and analyze the evidence we recover.
What kind of projects are students going to do during the program?
The students will learn about the different bones of the skeleton and how to ID complete and fragmented bones. We will also do lab exercises that teach students how to build a biological profile for their skeleton: they will determine the age, sex, ancestry, and potential injuries/diseases.
What sorts of high school students should this appeal to?
I think any student who is interested in science and/or anatomy or has seen those popular shows about forensics will really enjoy getting hands-on experience in my course.
What have past students’ experience between like in the program?
I have not taught this course at UMass before, but have done a similar course for the Girls Inc. program last summer. That course was much broader and looked at many aspects of Forensic Science. I found the students became very enthusiastic when we got to apply the topics we were learning in our daily lab exercises. They really enjoyed working in groups and got to meet students (and now new friends) from other schools who share their interests all while getting some college experience!
What is the difference between forensic anthropology and forensic science?
Forensic Anthropology is just one of the many parts of Forensic Science that focuses on the examination of bones. You would apply those skills you have as a Biological Anthropologist to examine "evidence". Forensic science is a broad discipline that incorporates a lot of different scientific methods and fields to examine evidence and address legal issues. Any topic/discipline can be a "forensic" one when you apply your knowledge to assist in a legal case. In that way, we can have an engineer, entomologist, chemist, anthropologist etc. that may work at a university or in the private sector be called in to assist in a case. If they do, they are now working as a Forensic scientist. And of course, you also have professionals that work directly in crime labs.
What do you think is the most important quality needed to be a successful forensic anthropologist?
I think its important to have attention to detail, patience, sensitivity, and a strong basis in ethics. All great qualities for any scientific field. The latter two traits are incredibly important if you choose to work with human remains. Remember, you may be helping identify a lost loved one or assist in solving a violent crime. You must be able to do your job professionally and handle human remains in a respectful manner until they can be returned to family members who seek closure.
Is there anything else you want to share with prospective high school students?
Forensics may not have the glamour of Bones or CSI but its a valuable way you can apply your knowledge to help people!
For more information on "Forensic Anthropology" with Professor Matarazzo and the rest of our pre-college summer programs for high school students, visit our website!