UK university’s multimillion-pound investment makes the most of cutting-edge forensics facilities

Submitted by ashton.wenborn on Thu, 11/10/2022 - 13:31

“More than 90 per cent of crime has a digital element,” says Laura Hugh, senior lecturer in forensic science at Cranfield University. The rise in digital crimes has resulted in a need for graduates who are better equipped to deal with this growing threat.

Cranfield University, which specialises in science, engineering, design, technology and management courses, has recently launched a digital forensics master’s. The degree is designed to meet government demand to tackle digital crime and has been developed in partnership with the software solutions firm CCL.

Hugh says Cranfield’s close collaboration with government and industry not only helps it to offer relevant courses that answer research questions but also means that it can provide intensive professional development opportunities that don’t disrupt businesses.

“It’s much easier to get a week off from your employer to attend the whole module than to do it over a semester of 14 weeks,” Hugh says of the modules taken by police and government employees.

As well as having launched the new master’s course, Cranfield has also completed its £7.2 million Cranfield Forensic Institute, which gives students and staff access to the latest forensic equipment, world-class facilities and cutting-edge teaching spaces.

As it’s located in Bedfordshire, Cranfield’s links to London make it a good choice for students, Hugh says, while the campus itself is designed to encourage students to collaborate with other disciplines being taught on the site. Cranfield’s cutting-edge facilities further enhance this collaborative approach, offering unique insights in a variety of forensic science disciplines, including digital, DNA and body fluids analysis, crime scene analysis and entomology.

The investment in analytical laboratories includes a taphonomy suite to study the decay of organic matter. Hugh also notes that Cranfield is an academic rarity in having its own mortuary.

The opportunity to learn from a team with real-world experience is also a highlight, she says. “It’s not just about the facilities or the equipment. It’s about the people that teach these things,” Hugh says. The ability to learn from staff with field experience is vital for this subject, she explains, stating that Cranfield focuses on equipping students with the skills they need to enter the workplace. “They will have to train in the relevant discipline and maintain competencies, but we provide them with the critical thinking of a master’s level education,” Hugh says.

In 2023, Cranfield will launch master’s degrees in forensic biology and archaeological science. The forensic biology MSc will provide aspiring forensic practitioners with the necessary technical knowledge, but they will also be taught the critical thinking and communication skills needed to present their conclusions within the criminal justice system. What is the scientist’s opinion on the biological evidence? What is the most likely explanation of how the DNA arrived on a surface, for example. Could the evidence be interpreted in an alternative way? Ultimately, does the jury understand our scientific reasoning?” Hugh says. These are vital questions that highlight the importance of teaching communication alongside investigation and analysis.

As lab-based studies, the practical, in-person and hands-on experience that students at Cranfield get is “priceless”, Hugh says. “It’s that in-person interaction in small groups with a subject expert staff member around; you can ask those random questions that perhaps you wouldn’t ever do if you were on a group online chat.”

The digital forensics master’s launched in October 2022 and the forensic biology master’s launches in 2023.

Find out more about Cranfield University.

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The completion of the £7.2 million Cranfield Forensic Institute at Cranfield University provides world-class facilities for in-demand postgraduate courses within forensics and archaeology

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