The science behind solving serious crime

King’s MSc students are studying insect behaviour to help solve murder cases

King’s has been at the cutting edge of forensic science for many years, working closely with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to develop innovative techniques and test new methods to collect and analyse evidence in criminal cases. This month King’s has strengthened this relationship and entered into a strategic alliance with the MPS, which will enable researchers to develop ever more effective ways to investigate serious crime.

The Forensic Science MSc programme began as a joint venture 30 years ago between the forensic scientists working for the MPS and the College. This week King’s MSc student Poulomi Bhadra explained to a room of journalists at the Natural History Museum how her forensic entomology project (the study of insects) seeks to answer the number one question posed by Senior Investigating Officers of insect evidence in criminal cases; when did the victim die?

The primary insects used to determine when a victim has died are blowflies. However, their arrival on a body can be delayed by many factors including physical barriers. Poulomi is studying flies and whether they can lay their eggs through zips, which is helping detectives to solve crimes in which bodies are dumped in suitcases and bags.

Since 2001 in excess of 100 projects have been carried out by students under the supervision and guidance of MPS and King’s scientists. Many of these projects have led to further research and have broadened the forensic scope available to police officers carrying out criminal investigations.

Dr Barbara Daniel, Head of the Department of Forensic and Analytical Science at King’s College London, said: ‘King’s researchers work together with the MPS, sharing expertise and resources, to enable King’s students to carry out focused research projects based on real crime scene investigation. The aim of these projects is to tackle the challenges in uncovering, collecting and analysing forensic evidence.

‘As a leading research institution we are now building on this experience and drawing from other expertise across the College to work with the MPS on expanding our work in digital forensics and cybercrime.’

Poulomi Bhadra, MSc student said: ‘Being on the King’s/MPS research programme has made me realise I have a knack for the niche forensic studies. DNA and fingerprints form the bulk of the forensic evidence commonly recovered from crime scenes, and there is and has been fascinating research on them.

‘At the same time, for some inexplicable reason, I find myself drawn to the other non mainstream areas like blood pattern analysis, entomology and anthropology.

‘I wanted to be a part of this project and I was extremely happy when I was selected to undertake this research, ever since it has been a very rewarding experience. I have had two of the best in the field of entomology as my supervisors and they have been extremely supportive.

‘The research itself has been so interesting; we have obtained some surprising results so far and there is much more to investigate. I have never felt so passionate about studying and research as I have in the past few months, so much so that I have decided to pursue a PhD in this field.’