New Forensic Science Course Taught By Dr. Cernota To Be Offered As Spring Elective, Inspired by Novel Postmortem

As a recent addition to Andover’s 2007-2008 Course Catalog, Forensic Science will be offered as a science elective next spring. As a 400-level class, it will be available to Uppers and Seniors. Paul Cernota, an Instructor in Chemistry in his 8th year at Andover, will teach the new course. This summer, Dr. Cernota will receive a Course Planning Grant that will enable him to develop the class. Cernota will work through potential lab reports, purchase basic supplies, formulate the syllabus and research potential text books. Although Dr. Cernota has no formal training in the subject, he will attend a seminar on developing the course in the Fall. The class has been under development for three years, but was delayed when Cernota became scheduling officer. Dr. Cernota first thought of bringing a Forensics class to Andover when he was reading Patricia Cornwell’s novel Postmortem and noticed the extensive science involved in the book. Cernota said, “I had my Chem 550 students read the book after the AP one year and they all seemed to enjoy what we talked about. I figured that meant we could get interest in a full course for forensics.” The field of Forensic Science deals with the application of Natural Sciences in respect to crime scenes and evidence. The course description states that Physics will be applied to ballistics analysis, Chemistry will be applied to chemical analysis and Biology will be applied to DNA analysis. Fittingly, the requirements for taking Forensics will be to have completed a full year of Chemistry and to be, at least, enrolled in a year long Biology class. In terms of the structure of the course, Dr. Cernota said, “I hope the class will be based on a number of topics, all of which would have some kind of laboratory or experiential component.” In the weekly labs, students will deal with fingerprints, unknown substances and DNA traces to develop conclusions. The graded portions of the course will be a combination of the lab reports with a few tests. Cernota has not yet decided if a major paper, exam or project will take place at the end of the term. Regarding his goal with this course Cernota said, “I’d like to have students see how the science they have been studying has real, practical applications. It’s hard sometimes to see how the material we cover from an academic perspective is used in important areas like solving crimes.” With the popularity of crime solving shows such as Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order and The Shield, it is clear that there is a growing interest in this subject. Patricia Russell, Chair of the Science Department, said, “With science electives there are always new ones every year. They depend on what both students and faculty find interesting during that time period. We thought with the popularity of this subject [forensic science] today, the class would provide a new way to look at science.” Ryan Morris ’09 said, “The reason that I would take the class is because I have always imagined what it would actually be like to be a crime investigator dude.” Around campus reactions to the new class vary greatly. Will Burke ’09 said, “It sounds like one of those courses that you need to have a specific interest for. I’ve already learned a bit about this subject and definitely it’s not for me.” On the other hand, Elizabeth Patino ‘09 said, “Forensics is a course that I’d definitely take because it is so real and makes sense. I’m very excited, because last year, in Biology 100, after learning about DNA, I asked the science department if there was an available class that goes more in depth. I learned that for [my] Upper and Senior years, there would be!” Patino’s thoughts are in accordance with those of many current Juniors that recognize the DNA analysis portion of their winter curriculum as one of the more interesting parts of Biology 100. For this reason, the forensics science course seems appealing to some of these individuals. John Turiano ’10 said “Depending on the difficulty of the course, it is something I might want to do after Chemistry. Its cool that you can actually deal with evidence and not just talk about it.”