Course Title: Applied Science in Action: Art, Archaeology and Crime

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: Applied Science in Action: Art, Archaeology and Crime

Credit Points: 12.00

Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


135H Applied Sciences


Sem 2 2006,
Sem 2 2007

Course Coordinator: Dr Alex Merchant

Course Coordinator Phone: +61 3 9925 3388

Course Coordinator Email:

Pre-requisite Courses and Assumed Knowledge and Capabilities


Course Description

This course is a student elective for all programs at RMIT University.
We live in an age of unprecedented scientific knowledge and rapidly changing technology. This allows us, for example, to determine from a fossil where or when an extinct animal lived. Police investigators use techniques of similar complexity to “finger” perpetrators of crime from scant evidence left at crime scenes, while art curators are able to painstakingly reconstruct lost or damaged artworks or even reveal “hidden” sketches from beneath layers of paint. The field of investigative science allows scientists to be portrayed as heroes or champions of science in a grisly world of human violence.
In this course, the way scientists study the natural world to unwrap the “mystery” surrounding an object’s origin, age, or composition will be explored. Students completing this course will be able to appreciate how investigations are conducted in a scientific manner, and be familiar with the application of a range of analytical techniques. Students will be given the opportunity to hear from active researchers within the School of Applied Sciences.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes/Capability Development

The primary capabilities developed by this course are:
• Knowledge capability: describe important events or scientific advances that shaped the use of forensic science, identify sites in Australia which were used for nuclear testing, examine the ethical issues which surround the use of science in any endeavor, tell the story of Otzi the Ice Man and the whirlwind of events that surrounded his discovery, be able to use simple examples to demonstrate how digital photography can be used to fake images, quote several famous cases where forensic science has been used to defend or prosecute a case setting a precedent for how it was used afterwards;
• Comprehension capability: summarize the types of evidence collected from a crime scene, differentiate between roles taken by pathologist, coroner and police in an Australian context, discuss the application of science in an art form like holography and compare this to the rise of other forms of art (like painting) due to technological advances, grasp how non-destructive imaging technique (eg. X-rays) in conjunction with chemistry can be used in professions like art restoration, predict the effects of nuclear weapons testing on indigenous populations in Australia and the Pacific.
The syllabus for this course covers the following areas (which may change due to the availability of presenters):
• An introduction to analytical techniques using electrons, ions, photons.
• Holography – where Science meets Art.
• Gunshot Residue: The crime scene, the evidence.
• DNA Evidence & Forensic Pathology
• Forensic Photography – Real or Fake?
• Digital Imaging and Ethics
• Art Restoration.
• Nuclear Weapon Testing in Australia.
• Ötzi: the Man in the Italian Ice - Modern Science and a 5,000 year old story.

Additional Areas of study
• Active researchers within the School of Applied Sciences (eg: Biology, Biotechnology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Food Science, Nanotechnology, Occupational Health and Safety, Physics, and Scientific Photography) will be invited to present a seminar on their work. This will be a two-part presentation, one part involving the necessary background theory and the second on their actual research work. The second part may involve attending a seminar presented by the School as part of their ongoing seminar series.

Overview of Learning Activities

The learning activities in this course are:
• Listening and analysing material as presented, questioning available lecturers, private research, reading available texts, selected references and notes;
• completing tutorial questions designed to probe an understanding of presented concepts, and to give feedback on student progress and understanding;
• participation in formative assessment including online discussion board participation and/or journal/website/portfolio.
• participation in tours of specialist facilities in Melbourne which may include: RMIT University laboratories, Museum Victoria, Police Museum, National Gallery Victoria, After Hours Tours, Heidelberg Gallery.
• research into a selected area of interest and an oral presentation of this work before the class and completion of an essay on the same topic.
• Meeting active researchers from a field of study outside a student’s own experience and listening to how solving a small puzzle may benefit the wider community.

Overview of Learning Resources

Students participating in this course will be expected to have access to the library and internet for research and/or video resources. Students may be asked to download online resources for further study on campus or at home. A list of useful website links and library resources will be provided. Students may be required to purchase or copy newspaper and/or journal and/or popular science/forensics magazine articles.

Overview of Assessment

There is ongoing assessment during the semester to encourage students to engage with the material and to give feedback on progress. This is performed with tutorial sheets, participation in online discussions related to topics and maintenance of a learning journal.
A major assignment involves research into a selected area of interest and an oral presentation of this work before the class and completion of an essay on the same topic.