Nabbed by sci­ence:

Real-life foren­sic work is vastly dif­fer­ent from that por­trayed on TV crime dra­mas. But the re­sults of pin­point­ing an of­fender can be just as sat­is­fy­ing, as Cass Mar­rett finds.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

How real-life foren­sic work is far re­moved from TV crime dra­mas.

Af­ter 24 years as a foren­sic sci­en­tist, Dr Sally Coul­son (above) has one main piece of ad­vice: Lis­ten to what your par­ents tell you.

“As my mum al­ways said, ‘Don’t walk down a dark al­ley at night’.”

It is a les­son that could save your life.

“Some crimes – not all, but some crimes – if you looked af­ter your per­sonal safety a lit­tle bit bet­ter, then you may not have got­ten your­self into the sit­u­a­tion that you are in,” says Coul­son.

But re­gard­less of whether peo­ple are cau­tious, Coul­son still finds her­self in a job analysing ev­i­dence that could con­vict a mur­derer.

“The area we fo­cus on is broadly called trace ev­i­dence and that’s ap­ply­ing chem­istry tech­niques to look­ing at things like glass and paint fi­bres, ac­cel­er­ants, ex­plo­sives, all the sorts of things that you might find at a crime scene,” she says.

Coul­son is part of a team of ex­perts in the series Foren­sics New Zealand re­con­struct­ing how crimes were com­mit­ted and later solved us­ing foren­sic tech­niques.

“(There is a) mis­con­cep­tion that we’d al­ways find some­thing. Test­ing does take a lot longer than what you might be­lieve on the telly,” says Coul­son, who prefers not to buy into the fic­tional world of crime drama.

“It’s just too much like work. I don’t re­ally want to see that when I get home.”

Al­though Coul­son con­firms that real-life sel­dom mim­ics the ‘Eureka!’ mo­ments of the CSIs and SVUs of the world, wher­ever her ev­i­dence sits in the big­ger pic­ture, there’s one thing that keeps Coul­son go­ing.

“To be per­fectly hon­est, quite of­ten we don’t al­ways hear about the out­come of whether there’s been a con­vic­tion or not,” she says.

“It’s that sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing I’ve done a good job.”

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