Kids visiting the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis one April day had an unusual opportunity: to help students from UIndy solve a “crime” by figuring out who stole the last cookie from the cookie jar. Thanks to the Indiana Network of Genetic Counselors, a UIndy student group called Forensics at UIndy (aka FOUND) were able to take part in DNA Day at the Museum. FOUND was one of eight groups invited to set up a station in order to help teach kids about science and DNA and to get them excited about the biological sciences. Krista Latham, assistant professor in both the Biology and Anthropology departments, serves as the faculty advisor to FOUND. (See the recent issue of 1400 magazine at 1400.uindy.edu for more on Latham.) On DNA day, the group decided to do an interactive mystery skit that could involve both parents and children. Kids were shown an “evidence bag” containing a cookie with a bite missing from it. They were told that DNA had been taken from the cookie and from three suspects. The detective asks the kids to compare DNA profiles from each suspect to the DNA profiles taken from the cookie. Using what they learned from the other stations at DNA day, the kids were able to compare the profiles using an X-ray light box until they discovered a match and could identify the thief.
“This was the perfect level of complexity and involvement for the younger kids,” explains Latham. “Forensic science is fun, but it can be difficult and complicated to explain to kids. I wanted to do something that involved the whole family, and we made sure that we were dramatic and excited—and excited to get them involved.”
Latham also took along some actual DNA sequence films that were part of a research project. Older kids were able to view them on the light box and go into more detail about DNA sequences and how they can be used in forensics. One of the graduate students in FOUND who works at a private forensic DNA lab brought in one of her training lessons, a DNA profile collected from an object associated with a crime, along with several suspects to compare it to. That information gave kids a chance to see what real DNA profiles look like instead of the simplified profiles used in the skit.
Rebecca Evans, a representative of the Indiana Network of Genetic Counselors who organized the event, praised FOUND’s involvement with DNA day. “The day was a great success,” she said, “and we were very thankful for the involvement of UIndy and their willingness to inspire the next generation to engage in learning about DNA.” Latham said she heard good feedback from the parents and kids as well. “Everyone—including our UIndy students—had a great time. “And we got kids involved and excited about science, which is all that we could ask for.”