SCOTTS VALLEY -- Scotts Valley High School students and their parents got a taste of the forensic sciences Thursday night with a presentation on homicide investigations by UC Santa Cruz Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway.
Galloway, who has appeared as an expert witness in murder trials such as the Laci Peterson case, explained how forensic scientists can identify homicide victims through bones, teeth and other body parts.
"These are real people who were shot, killed and battered to death," Galloway told the group. "This is not 'CSI.' It's sobering for us to see these kinds of things."
About 100 students and their parents attended the talk, which was part of the high school's sixth annual International Baccalaureate Science night. The speech was followed by informal student presentations of their own three-week look into forensic sciences.
The students picked forensic science as their area of study this year. Galloway said she appreciated their interest.
"It's an area that's growing and it's becoming much more science based," Galloway said.
Bones or a skull found by investigators can show if someone was struck by sharp or blunt force, for instance. She showed pictures from a case in which she participated in Arizona where a man cut his mother's body into pieces and tried to dispose of them around town.
She helped reconstruct the body and identify it.
Other cases took her to places such as Tennessee and Marin
Scotts Valley High senior Dylan Kuo said he enjoyed the presentation.
"I thought it was interesting how they could identify people just from the bones," Kuo said.
After Galloway's talk, students in groups of three showed displays they made on topics such as blood spatter, DNA collection and ballistics. They studied the topics and looked at case studies.
Kuo and classmates Katie Dreller and Jared Franich took on cyanide and arsenic poisoning. Franich said he was interested in a career in kinesiology -- or body mechanics.
David Crawford, the International Baccalaureate coordinator for the school, said he liked how the project gave the students time to look into the forensics field.
He noted that three out of four students at the school of about 780 students take advanced courses.
"It's fun," Crawford said. I love seeing kids delve into it deeply."
"The program isn't all about cramming information in your head so you can regurgitate it on a test. There's time for them to explore topics."
Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter on Twitter at Twitter.com/sbaxter_sc