Statistician keeps cops on the right track with DNA technique
35-year-old assistant professor and statistician Therese Graversen of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Mathematical Sciences has won the SCIENCE Dissemination Award 2018 presented by UCPH’s Faculty of Science. Graversen is being presented the award for widely communicating results about the use of DNA traces in criminal investigations in a readily understood and solidly scientific way.
DNA analysis has revolutionized evidence collection in police work and forensic medicine. However, if DNA from multiple individuals are found at a crime scene or on a homicide victim, it becomes a problem for police to present evidence that incontrovertibly pinpoints offenders.
The problem of mixed DNA traces has now been remedied thanks to the calculations of 35-year-old assistant professor and statistician Therese Graversen of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Mathematical Sciences. Among others, the British police and Crown Prosecution Service have used her statistical DNA calculations for evidence in several homicide cases. Graversen's unique statistical tools and calculation methods have also been used by Danish police to ease investigations.
The SCIENCE Dissemination Award is an annual award for researchers who make an extraordinary effort in the area of communications. Therese Graversen has done just so with her research and its practical applications in forensic medicine.
In particular, the jury noted the breadth of media in which her research was discussed. This ranged from the widely distributed and read Danish State Railways’ (DSB) publication “Ud & Se”, to the Danish Law and Bar Society’s journal, “Advokaten”, as well as a host of newspapers and other media. Graversen even participated in Copenhagen’s “Culture Night”, where she held a public lecture and presented the audience with a DNA puzzle.
The recipient had this to say:
"What I've realized is that even a little person like myself can contribute slightly towards advancing jurisprudence. My method has made police - in both Denmark and England - aware that they can extract more information from DNA than they are used to. It is fun to consolidate knowledge and identify precisely the insight that a person is missing. That this has led to this Dissemination Award is a great recognition and tremendous honour."
Therese Graversen will be presented with the SCIENCE Dissemination Award 2018 at a reception in the Faculty of Science’s HCØ-building, Universitetsparken, on Wednesday, December 19 from 14.00 – 15.00. The award includes a cash prize of 25,000 kroner. Therese Graversen's research is funded by The Danish Council for Independent Research | Technology and Production, under grant DFF – 6111-00557.
- Assisent professor Therese Graversen, 35, researches the statistical analysis of mixed DNA in forensic medicine at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Mathematical Sciences.
- She has assisted English police in four cases by calculating statistical information based on mixed DNA traces.
- She calculates a number, termed a ' likelihood ratio'. The number will typically be ‘one in a billion’ or more because DNA is very strong evidence when identifying individuals. When the number calculated is large, it increases the reliability that a given person's DNA is present in a mixture.
- The researcher drafts written statements for the English police and also serves as an expert witness in court.
- The researcher's method is innovative because it involves more DNA sequencing information than has been used up until now. Her method is freely available online, where anyone with some professional insight can read about it and perform calculations of their own.