Forensic Chemistry and Physical Evidence with Dr Kari Pitts

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Dr Kari Pitts is a forensic chemist and mineralogist who works with physical evidence, analysing the remnants of everyday life left behind at crime scenes.

Join us as we talk about Kari's journey to forensic science, working with physical evidence, and how it's not quite like CSI.

About Dr Kari Pitts

Dr Kari Pitts is a Forensic Chemist and Mineralogist in the Physical Evidence Team of ChemCentre’s Forensic Science Laboratory. She holds a PhD and a Masters in Forensic Science from UWA, and a Bachelor of Science with Honours from Curtin University. Working at ChemCentre for nearing 16 years, her expertise is trace evidence; including paint, glass, gunshot residue, soils, fibres, and anything else that isn’t biological, a drug or radioactive. Dr Pitts has reported over 300 cases and given expert evidence in criminal trials in Australia and New Zealand. With a passion for outreach, she was the 2016 RACI WA Bayliss youth lecturer and a 2019-20 Science and Technology Australia Superstar of STEM.

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[00:00:55] Kari’s goal of becoming a mad scientist.
[00:01:09] Curiosity fed by science at school.
[00:02:18] A strength in chemistry.
[00:04:09] What makes a course ‘forensic’
[00:04:16] Chemistry as applied to the law.
[00:05:26] Learning legal aspects of the field, eg. chain of custory, evidence law.
[00:07:07] Understanding the journey and context of the samples, and the limitations of the processes used.
[00:08:08] Additional challenges of sample integrity and control.
[00:10:25] Process and standardisation of evidence management.
[00:11:38] Collection procedures dependent on nature of the crime.
[00:13:15] Order of execution for testing.
[00:15:01] There’s always something different and exciting to do and puzzle out.
[00:15:45] The process is standard, the reconstruction or findings are where it is most engaging.
[00:16:23] The sheer variety in trace evidence.
[00:16:58] Unusual requests.
[00:18:12] Discriminating for egg?
[00:21:14] Getting specific with common substances.
[00:22:44] Consider white paint with low evidential value.
[00:24:38] Evidential value and time and cost factors.
[00:25:13] Kari’s favourite instrument.
[00:25:42] Balancing resources to get answers or form an opinion.
[00:27:58] Part of the job is testifying as an expert in court.
[00:28:11] The importance of being able to communicate the science to laypeople.
[00:29:47] Media portrayal of the process vs reality.
[00:32:41] Training and strategies for public speaking in a legal context.
[00:37:10] Outreach is valuable to the community and also helps with the public speaking.
[00:38:36] CSI and popular culture makes the concepts more accessible to the public.
[00:42:06] Accessible, but not exactly accurate.
[00:42:48] A popular but difficult field to get into.
[00:44:06] You need to love the science first before you consider forensics.
[00:45:20] Skill up to give your self a competitive point of difference in the job market.
[00:45:57] Changes in the field, inclusion and diversity.
[00:49:49] Cultural changes in work environment making technical careers viable.
[00:50:35] All workers are people first. Support your people.
[00:54:11] Brain drain and the leaky pipeline is a waste.
[00:56:53] The scope of opportunities for science with a forensics background.
[01:00:11] STEMM is a way of thinking, not necessarily a job.
[01:01:40] Critical thinking.
[01:04:07] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
[01:06:41] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
[01:09:34] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
[01:12:00] Finding out more about Kari and the field of forensics.
[01:12:41] Deadly Science and bringing resources and opportunities to regional areas.

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