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Impact Workshop (8): Geology and Geographical Information Science in Forensic Science

Date & Time:

September 18, 2015 (Fri) | 1:00 - 2:00 p.m.


Social Sciences Function Room, 11/F, The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU


Dr Alastair Ruffell
Reader in Physical Geography, School of Geography, Archaeology & Palaeoecology
Queen's University Belfast

Dr Jennifer McKinley
Senior Lecturer in GIS and Physical Geography, School of Geography, Archaeology & Palaeoecology
Queen's University Belfast



Definitions of research impact vary with most concentrating on benefits to society, especially where institutional policy is influenced. Measuring impact has and will continue to be contentious. The United Kingdom government runs a Research Excellence assessment of publicly-funded institutions (universities and research centres) every 4 years, with impact playing an ever-increasing role. Current suggestions being discussed by the Department of Education include impact forming 40% to 50% of the 2018 exercise, with a wider scope as to what can be included than before. This includes research outcomes reaching hard to reach groups such as under-18 year olds, the elderly, disadvantaged and local community groups, all of which have not traditionally had links to bodies carrying out research. International collaboration will feature. A key question in the last (2014) exercise was ‘what is impact’; the common answer was 'you define impact, then prove you are doing it'. The looseness of this answer appears to be a problem, when it can provide opportunities for the writer of an impact case study, as the speakers hope to demonstrate in this presentation. Their Geoforensics Impact case study received top score (4*) in the UK Research Excellence Framework 2014.

The use of geology in forensic science (searching for buried objects, sampling at crime scenes or disasters, and the analysis of trace evidence) provides one example. Although the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is well established in crime density mapping, identifying hot spots and patterns over time, GIS capability is still not routinely used in the collection of trace evidence and in search strategies for missing persons, homicide graves or other objects buried in the ground. A second example outlines a GIS-based methodological approach to collect, integrate and analyse different types of georeferenced data useful in forensic investigations to increase the potential for a higher degree of success in search operations.

About the Speakers:

Dr Alastair Ruffell is Reader in Physical Geography in the School of Geography, Archaeology & Palaeoecology of Queen's University Belfast. His research is mainly on geoforensics, especially the use of geophysics in searching the ground. Such searches may be for toxic waste, human bodies or buried weapons/contraband. He has a special interest in searching water and peat (wetlands). He has published over 125 peer-reviewed papers and two books, and completed over 130 major (over £1000) consultancy projects, mainly on Geoforensics.

Dr Jennifer McKinley is Senior Lecturer in GIS and Physical Geography in the School of Geography, Archaeology & Palaeoecology of Queen's University Belfast. Her research has focused on the application of spatial analysis techniques - geostatistics and Geographical Information Science (GIS) - to soil geochemistry, environmental and criminal forensics, airborne geophysics and weathering studies. Interdisciplinary collaboration and strong partnership working with multiple stakeholders, underpins all of her research. She has published over 100 scientific articles. She is also the Executive Vice President of the International Association of Mathematical Geoscientists (IAMG), and Chartered Geologist and Trustee Council member of the Geological Society of London.

Background on the Workshops:

Impact is a key element of the University's knowledge exchange (KE) strategy. Since 2012/13, the University Grants Committee (UGC) requires each UGC-funded institution to submit up to 5 impact case studies that are underpinned by excellent research as part of the knowledge transfer/KE annual report each year. The format is similar to the impact case study template of the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014.

It is also important to note that in the Panel-Specific Assessment Criteria for the UGC RAE 2014, all the Panels included under the "Esteem" measure some elements relating to KE/technology transfer. This suggests that the next Hong Kong RAE will likely require evidence of impact and the UK experience indicates that now is the time to start collecting evidence of such impacts.

The Knowledge Exchange Office is organising workshops to be conducted by researchers who have hands-on experience in preparing impact statements and impact case studies for the UK REF 2014 or research councils overseas. The workshops will be of interest not only to colleagues who want to maximise the impact of their research, but also to those who co-ordinate research developments and research assessment in Faculties.

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