Friday, July 11, 2008

CSI-UT Health Science Center

An admirable camp and endeavour

An admirable way for the kids to spend time this Summer.

Students try science behind crime fight
By Lindsay Kastner

Most teenagers would be loath to spend their summers bent over vials of urine.

For Savannah Cardenas, 16, who spent Thursday analyzing urine samples for drugs, it was an awesome opportunity.
“I like science. I've always had a knack for it,” said Savannah, one of a handful of high school students chosen to participate in the first weeklong forensic toxicology camp at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

“Even in school labs I want to do everything, no offense,” she said looking to her lab partner, “but I like to be hands on.”

Clinical chemistry and toxicology professor George B. Kudolo said he hoped the camp, which ends today, would help spark an interest in science and expose students to a variety of career options.

This week the students learned all about forensic lab work by looking at case studies, talking with grad students and conducting experiments themselves.
“You just pick up the pee in the paper,” said Savannah, explaining a lengthy process the students used to examine pieces of dampened blotter paper that changed color to reveal the presence of drugs.

After dousing the strips in various vials, the students could determine the types of drugs in their samples based on the colors that appeared and their placement on the paper.

The experiment took hours, which was part of the fun.

“You always see on ‘CSI' and stuff how fast it just happens. You drop it in and it's just over,” said camper Jennifer Gambill, 15.

The actual experiments were much cooler than on TV, Jennifer said. “It's not like you can just do it in three minutes.”
Savannah, who is already considering a career in forensics, is also a big fan of television crime dramas.

“I watch ‘Law & Order SVU' every chance I get, even if it's reruns,” she said. But like Jennifer, she said the real labs are far more involved — and more interesting — than the Hollywood versions.

For Kudolo, a key element of the camp is the opportunity to show students that science can be fun and useful.

While the popular television programs often show lab workers using their skills to nab criminals, Kudolo noted that “sometimes their work also helps exonerate people ... just like DNA is clearing people who are on death row.”

Most of the campers are students at Clark High School, which was chosen as a sort of pilot feeder school for the program. Teachers nominated students to attend.
“These are probably the ones with the promise,” Kudolo said. “Get them excited now and you never know where they'll go from here.”