Work Continues on the Forensic Lab and Crime Scene

We have been pouring huge amounts of time into the new forensics area of the PacRimX Islands. Dave Menshew has been on with his students almost nightly getting things ready for the joint activity with Kyoto on June 11th (tentative date).

Eloise Pasteur has graciously volunteered her scripting expertise to help us to get all of our lab equipment running. We now have a fully functional process from collecting blood samples through to sequencing DNA that simulates what is done in the real world (and done in the Enoch High School’s Forensic Biotechnology Career Pathway Program). The last step will be to create the objects and scripts for the Kastle-Meyer test the students will perform on the suspected blood samples before amplifying and sequencing them.

This has been an amazing project so far. It has been challenging for all of us, and especially me, because we’ve not done a lot with scripting before with PacRimX. We have always just created stages for the students to interact on. It’s always been about collaboration, communication and cultural exchange. This is our first foray into simulation and in-world education.

Dave Menshew was at a workshop in the Bay Area yesterday and was asked to have this project featured in an article in a major publication and to be featured on a TV show. We’ll post details and links when those actually take place. Dave has submitted an application for one of the NMC Virtual Learning Prizes. If he is awarded one of these prizes, he already has big plans for additional resources for expanding the forensics facilities in-world. This new technology will add a whole new dimension to the biotechnology and forensics program out at Enochs High School.  We will have to coordinate with Linden Lab to get all of this equipment copied out to a place where others can use it in thier own projects.

I thought it might be good to share a few screenshots of this virtual forensics environment that so much work has been going into these past few weeks. That’s one thing that we learned long ago, that everyone should share their work in these spaces so others can see what kind of work is taking place in virtual worlds and education:

Student Portraits

The one thing that always amazes me is the power of Second Life to draw in females. Dave Menshew’s forensics program must have a good number of female students enrolled, but they have also been (to date) the most active in helping to build this project. I have really been impressed with all of his students’ enthusiasm and attention to detail on this first project of theirs. And several of them stay on until Dave reminds them that they need to log out and get some sleep. The screenshot above was taken last night as they put up portraits of the students involved in this project. We are waiting on pictures from the Kyoto students (they sent us avatar pictures) for this wall.

Entrance to the Forensics Lab

We just finished all the landscaping around the lab last night. We tried to keep with an Asian theme, as that is central to the scenario the students wrote for this crime solving activity.

Conference Area, Second Floor

Since Dave plans on expanding the use of this virtual facility next year in his classes, he has set up a space where he and his students can meet and discuss future projects, or debrief on recently completed projects.

First floor of lab

All the work takes place on the first floor of the lab. Here are some tables with an assortment of equipment laid out. The cotton swabs on the left dispense a folder with three single use swabs for testing. The swabs turn red when they are touched to blood. A successful Kastle-Meyer test will turn the swab pink, which will indicate that there is hemoglobin and the students will then move on to amplify and sequence the DNA.

Themal Cycler and DNA Sequencer

The students will come to this counter if their Kastle-Meyer test was positive. They will first amplify the collected DNA with the thermal cycler, and then sequence the DNA. If all steps were executed in the proper sequence they will get a DNA sequence that they can then check against the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

NCBI Data Terminal

The students come over and open a session on the National Center for Biotechnology Information and cut and paste their DNA sequence to identify it using the online databases. This is all done using the in-world browser. If they collected the right evidence, and followed the steps properly, they should have some clues about the crime scene to help them solve the puzzle at hand.

I will not post any screenshots of the house used for the crime scene until after the student activity. I don’t want to spoil any of the clues or give anything away. So that will be saved for another day.

Skydiving Platform

And after all the crime busting, students need to have a little fun. What better than a programmable skydiving platform and a parachute vending machine? We just put this up last night and a group of Kyoto students had already discovered it this morning and were “testing” it out. The students can easily set the altitude on the platform for a quick trip into the atmosphere above the lab.

It was funny, this morning one of the Kyoto students was hesitant to get on, and kept asking the others if it was ‘fun’. One thing that I’ve noticed immediately about the new Kyoto students that are coming online is that they are far from shy. They have been asking all kinds of questions and have already been making friends with Modesto students. I’m not sure if this is a result of better preparation before bringing them online in Kyoto, or if they heard about this project last year from the first class of students. Whatever it is, it’s a major shift in how they approach this virtual space.

A few closing comments. The two houses and the skydiving platform were brought over from the main grid a year ago. These were not built by the students or staff. Most everything else (outside of the plants of course) were created by participants in this project. And all scripting of the lab equipment has been provided by Eloise Pasteur from the United Kingdom. She responded to a desperate request from me for help that I posted to the SLED Listserv week before last. She has been working with us through email, even with an eight hour time difference, to perfect the scripts that were required to get everything working as it does in real life.

Eloise’s assistance inspired Dave Menshew to submit an application for one of the NMC Virtual Learning Prizes. Her examples of scripts have also whetted our appetites to learn LSL ourselves over this next year so we can do some of this scripting ourselves. We plan on visiting her on the main grid this summer to hopefully learn some scripting first hand from the expert. It’s people like Eloise who are shining examples of the type of people working in this virtual space in education. It’s hard not to get excited about this stuff after you see how the students respond to it, especially when they are involved in creating these learning spaces.

We will update this story in a few weeks after the students run through the activities. We will also post blog entries from some of the students themselves with their reactions to this project, both the development of the environment and the actual activity itself. So keep an eye out for follow-up posts.

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3 responses to “Work Continues on the Forensic Lab and Crime Scene

  1. Wow! This is like the HHMI Interactive Lab series (http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/vlabs/bacterial_id/index.html). What an amazing (and cost-effective) alternative to purchasing all the amplification and sequencing equipment. Our brand new forensics class offered this Fall will be envious!

  2. Pingback: Ezra Keats – Pan Pacific Project « PacificRim Exchange

  3. Congratulations and good luck you guys , it really looks like the forensic science area is going to be great.

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