Forensic experts' creepy crime scene at Alton Towers is a hit with schools

"Generally we find that if you can apply whatever subject you're trying to teach to a particular scenario then pupils learn much better. It's way of making science more applicable and gets them working together to try and solve the crime.”

Dr Laura Walton-Williams, Lecturer in Forensic Science

School and college pupils have been investigating the mysterious disappearance of a scientist following a subspecies laboratory explosion – thanks to a spooky collaboration between Alton Towers and Forensic experts from Staffordshire University.

The Forensic and Crime Science Department teamed up with the theme park to create "Sub Strain", an educational escape room experience as part of the Alton Towers ScareFest events.

The immersive experience sees pupils learn a range of key forensic techniques used in industry as well as genuine scientific principals and methods.

Lecturer in Forensic Science Dr Laura Walton-Williams designed the workshop with colleague Dr Jodie Dunnett. She explained: “Alton Towers approached us about creating a crime scene with an alien subspecies twist.”

“Generally we find that if you can apply whatever subject you're trying to teach to a particular scenario then pupils learn much better.”

“It's way of making science more applicable and gets them working together to try and solve the crime.”

On entering the scene of a lab explosion pupils attempt to unravel the mystery the deadly Sub Strain virus and Dr Arten’s disappearance by examining forensic evidence including fingerprints, mobile phone records, hair, footwear marks and cellular material.

The educational workshops aimed at 14 to 18 year-olds were led by students on the University's Forensic degrees. Dan Foulkes, from Stoke-on-Trent College, took part in one of the sessions.

He said: “It's a much better way of learning to actually get involved and experience it yourself. It gives you more of an insight into what forensics is and what's involved by searching for clues - it's just exciting!”

Fellow student Charlotte Potter added: “It's been really good. I've never done any forensics and didn't know what it involved. The workshop taught us about different types of fingerprints and how to match the fingerprints to evidence.”

“It's a lot better doing something hands on than sitting in front of a blackboard.”

Following positive feedback for the Sub Strain workshops Merlin Entertainment plans to adopt the model at attractions across the world.

The educational sessions are part of an ongoing partnership between Staffordshire University and Alton Towers which has seen the creation of a Visitor Attraction and Resort Management foundation degree.

Jonny Harper, School Brand Manager at Alton Towers Resort, said: “Throughout the year we work with a range of schools to deliver educational talks and workshops to help students gain a greater understanding of a variety subjects in a unique, fun and engaging way, including science, marketing and business for example. The Sub Strain activity with Staffordshire University, a leading university in this field, and their students has allowed us to further expand this offering.”

“The feedback from those who have taken part has been very positive and we are looking forward to collaborating with Staffordshire University on similar projects moving forwards.”

Laura added: “I think it's really good for the uni in terms of getting students to understand what we do and learn about opportunities that are available for them. If they're interested in Forensic Science or Forensic Investigation then they can see what they can do on the degree.”

“However, if they're more interested in Business or Events Management or even Engineering, through our relationship with Alton Towers and other local partners, they have the opportunity to undertake work experience while they're doing their degrees which is invaluable from a future employment perspective.”

Find out more about the range of Forensic and Crime Science courses at Staffordshire University here.

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Amy Platts
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