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Institute scientist advises TV forensics drama

Forensic scientist collecting samples in a forest
Every patch of soil has its own ‘fingerprint’ which means that we can help identify the location that it came from

TV’s newest detective DCI Vera Stanhope will solve her latest case thanks to a helping hand from an expert at The James Hutton Institute. Dr Lorna Dawson, Head of the Soil Forensics Group, was called in by producers of the ITV crime drama ‘Vera’ to provide advice on soil forensics analysis

She will be tuning in to watch the second episode on ITV1 at 8pm on Sunday 8 May to see how her advice helps solve the crime. The drama is based on the novels by crime writer Ann Cleeves and stars Oscar nominated actress Brenda Blethyn in the title role.

Dr Dawson, who has extensive experience in soil forensics, said: “I am sworn to secrecy about the details of the episode, but I can say that this series is murder mystery at its best. It’s great to see popular television programmes like this making the use of forensic science more accessible to the public.”

As well as helping television’s fictional characters fulfil their roles, Dr Dawson helps solve real-life crimes through her work with the police and the criminal justice system. In recent years the application of soil forensics to criminal cases has become more frequent, being used in high profile cases such as the Sarah Payne and Soham murder trials. By using the unique signatures of natural minerals, organic, and other components found in the soil, experts can help locate the graves of murder victims or link a suspect with a crime scene by examining dirt found on clothing, footwear and even in the tread of a vehicle’s tyre.

Dr Dawson explains: “Every patch of soil has its own ‘fingerprint’ which means that we can help identify the location that it came from.”

In addition to her police work and popular Murder, Mystery & Microscopes project, which aims to make forensics more publicly accessible, Dr Dawson is currently compiling a database that holds the signature values for every type of soil and vegetation type in Scotland. The database will serve as a reference source for criminal investigations, as well as policymakers wishing to identify areas of soil that are most susceptible to climate change. The records will also benefit other scientific researchers and farmers who want to make more efficient use of fertilisers for crop growth.


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Printed from /news/institute-scientist-advises-tv-forensics-drama on 26/09/23 06:02:19 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.