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Biologist Brings CSI Interest to Life for Aspiring Young Scientist

Forensics Boot Camp - 20160623 - 14412656CONWAY, Ark. (June 30, 2016) – When Hendrix College biology professor Dr. Rick Murray learned that Bailey Reynolds, who will be a sixth-grade student at Cabot Middle School North in the fall, was interested in forensic science, he offered to help show her some of the real-life science behind some of her favorite shows, like CSI.

The idea for this project came about this spring at a hockey tournament in northwest Arkansas when he was coaching her older brother’s team.

When her mother mentioned Reynolds’ interest in science and CSI to Murray, he invited them to campus to learn the basics of analyzing DNA evidence in forensics. 

Murray and his Hendrix summer research students designed a three-day experiment for Reynolds.

On the first day, they introduced her to the tools of science, including pippetters to measure small volumes of liquid. They also examined her cheek cells under a microscope and made a saline solution.

On the second day, they took a DNA sample of Reynolds and her mother, along with the Hendrix research students and Dr. Murray. They purified the DNA from the samples and used a PCR reaction to amplify a region of genome, a technique that’s used in forensics to generate a DNA “fingerprint.”  

On the final day, they used gel electrophoresis to separate the DNA fragments and take a picture of it to compare the samples. And like any scientist, Reynolds recorded the results of their work in a lab notebook, which she can take with her, along with the souvenir photos of her cheek cells and DNA bands. 

In addition to the forensics experiments, Murray asked some of his female research students to give her a tour of the science research facilities on campus. Women are underrepresented in the sciences broadly, although less so in biology, Murray said.

“I was just trying to encourage her science interest and show her that science is fun and interesting,
 Murray said.

Murray is no stranger to community outreach. He routinely gives demonstrations and talks in schools for the annual Brain Awareness Week sponsored by the Society of Neuroscience and has talked about bacteria at the NSF-funded Ridin’ Dirty with Science camp at Hendrix.

The Hendrix Biochemistry Molecular Biology Club received an outreach grant from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to work with students in Bigelow one day a week on science demonstrations and tutoring.

He and his Hendrix research students also developed a daylong genetics program for middle school students to isolate their own DNA from cheek cells and make DNA necklaces using supplies purchased at Wal-Mart. The program was passed on to the teacher to be part of the classroom activities, Murray said.

Popular shows like CSIand Bones, which emphasizes anthropology and genetics, are great for inspiring young students’ interest in science, said Murray, who admits he spent a lot of lab time recreating FBI agent Dana Scully’s experiments he saw on The X-Files.

“This exercise started when I was an undergraduate, and I’ve always been interested in science and society,” said Murray. “I just want to show folks that science is in the everyday world around us, make it accessible, and increase awareness.”

About Hendrix College

Hendrix College is a private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas. Founded in 1876 and affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884, Hendrix is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges and is nationally recognized in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings for academic quality, community, innovation, and value. For more information, visit