From the case files of a government chemist

The School of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology, Kevin Street, has run a Forensic and Environmental Analysis BSc Programme since 2001 which has approximately 80 students. Following the success of a half-day forensic event run in collaboration with the SCI’s Republic of Ireland Regional Group in 2007, a second half-day symposium in forensic science was organised for Friday 27 November 2009.

Sponsored by SCI, the second Forensic Science Symposium, held at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) in November 2009, was attended by approximately 50 undergraduates from the DIT and ten from the Limerick Institute of Technology, along with postgraduate students and staff from both Colleges.

The first presentation was given by Ms T Bashir from the Institute of Technology, Sligo, who spoke of her work on the analysis of in medieval bone fragments from the Ballyhanna burial site, showing how results from trace metal analysis using Inductively Coupled Plasma Emission Spectroscopy correlated with medieval diet.

This was followed by a presentation on the changes in use and legislation associated with modern illegal drugs by Ms E Hughes of The Forensic Laboratory. These included the changes in the original 1977 Misuse of Drugs Act in 2006, to further cover the illegal use of psilocin and psilocyabin (magic mushrooms). More recently, (2009) legislation has been amended to allow control of 1-benzylpiperazine.

The next presentation was given by Dr T Hannigan of the Forensic Laboratory who outlined the role of the Laboratory in explosives analysis. He outlined the 1883 Explosives Act and described the typical inorganic and organic classes of explosives. The approximately fifty pipe bombs found in 2009, were classified broadly in terms of content. He outlined the information that could be obtained from unexploded devices using fingerprinting and DNA extraction. Finally, he gave an overview of the instrumental techniques used to identify inorganic explosives and organic explosives.

To finish, Dr Michael Walker, Consultant Chemist and part-time Food Chemist with the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, gave a wide-ranging presentation on the role of the Laboratory of the Government Chemist (LGC). Specifically, he covered a number of case studies ranging from the identification of remains in mass graves from World War I at Fromelles by DNA extraction and correlation with DNA from relatives. He also outlined the protocols used in food disputes with cases of nitrofurans, as residues from veterinary antibiotics in peanuts that were maliciously introduced into a peanut-free food preparation facility.

A former external examiner of the Programme, Dr Walker is one of very few to hold the Mastership in Chemical Analysis, (MChemA), in food, drugs and water. He took up the post of Chief Executive of Forensic Science, Northern Ireland in 2004.

The feedback from the audience was so positive, that it is expected to encourage a further lecture in forensics. Watch this space.

John Fox and John Cassidy, SCI Republic of Ireland Group

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