Penn State professor leads new TV show, 'Crime Scene University'

University Park, Pa. -- A unique intersection between one of primetime television's most popular dramatic genres -- crime scene investigation -- and the college classroom is making its debut on the campus of one of America's most popular universities ... and in the living rooms of America.

Penn State brought together 12 college students in a team-competition format forensic science program called "Crime Scene University," which premieres  Thursday, July 10, at 8 p.m. on Discovery Communications' Investigation Discovery channel.

The show, filmed in and outside the classroom, is believed to be among the first of its kind in today's generation of television entertainment. The hour-long digital TV show will run four episodes of simulated crime-scene scenarios, where college students from Penn State, as well as Arcadia, Duquesne, Eastern Kentucky, Slippery Rock and Virginia Commonwealth universities and Cedar Crest College face off in two teams to determine what happened in various realistic crime-scene scenarios.

The content of the episodes reflects the syllabus of the Penn State course titled "Forensic Science 201: Crime Scene Investigation." Students registered for the class and received academic credit while the show was being filmed.

Using established scientific investigation techniques and tools, the viewer can learn along with students as they collect, analyze and preserve evidence to try to piece together each case. The techniques and tools include blood-spatter analysis, bullet trajectory, electrostatic printing, fingerprint collection, oblique lighting and entomological forensics, which entails the study of insects near exposed bodily remains to determine time of death.

Robert Shaler, director of Penn State's forensic science program and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology who received his Ph.D. from Penn State, instructs the students in realistic settings involving a suspected homicide, a car accident and other true-to-life crime scenes. Prior to joining Penn State, Shaler directed the forensic biology department within New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and he was responsible for leading the effort to identify the 2,749 people who perished during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York. Shaler conceived of the idea for the television show and, with help from a friend at the City of New York's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, successfully pitched the idea to Discovery Communications.

"The program should be interesting to viewers because it will give some insight into how to do a crime scene investigation in real life, as opposed to the investigations that take place in drama-based programing like 'CSI' and 'Law and Order' or even in scripted programs of real cases, like 'Forensic Files'," said Shaler.

The three students from Penn State who will appear in "Crime Scene University" are forensic science junior Laura Heck and junior Victoria Dominguez, a forensic science major from La Quinta, Calif., both of whom attend the University Park campus; and Earl Bass, a biology major from Penn State Erie. Dominguez decided to come to Penn State to be able to study under Shaler's leadership.

Students were selected to participate in the course based on their grades -- they were required to hold a B average -- and their dedication to pursuing a career in forensic science. "The students were not prepped for TV except that they are carrying microphones," said Shaler.

For more information about Penn State's forensic science program, go to http://www.science.psu.edu/forensics/home.

"Crime Scene University" airs Thursdays from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern time on Investigation Discovery, which can be found in State College area digital television markets on Comcast channel 111, Dish channel 192 and DirectTV channel 285. For other areas, check local television listings.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010