KU Leuven: KU Leuven students investigate virtual crime scenes

Investigating murders as a forensic expert: for many KU Leuven students of the Biomedical Sciences program it is a dream job, but it turns out not always easy to gain practical experience. Thanks to a new application, they can now practice their skills using virtual reality .

The virtual approach has many advantages, says Professor Bram Bekaert, lecturer of the Criminalistics course in the Master’s program in Biomedical Sciences. “The pandemic suddenly made it much more difficult for our students to investigate real crime scenes . But even before corona it was often a challenge for students to gain practical experience. This VR application is a very good alternative.”


Three murder scenarios
The new application looks a lot like a computer game, including a 3D environment, VR glasses and two hand controllers . Students find themselves in one of three possible scenarios: a double robbery murder, a double murder of passion, and a suspicious death that could be a murder or suicide.

Upon their virtual arrival at the crime scene, the students are briefed by a police officer. Then they can walk into the house and search. Bram Bekaert: “Just like on a physical crime scene , students can open cabinets and doors, identify traces and perform tests. Taking DNA samples, making blood traces visible with a chemiluminescent spray (‘Bluestar’) or with infrared light, searching for semen remains with blue light, visualizing fingerprints and taking photos: everything is possible.”

Due to the online follow-up of the recorded tracks and the tests performed, the teacher or the student can easily carry out an evaluation.

From crime scene to practice court
Students also learn how to avoid contamination of evidence. Touched the door handle without gloves or stepped through a trail of blood? Then the VR system taps you on your fingers. Bekaert: “The technology we use to investigate crime scenes is becoming more and more sensitive, so it is even more important than it used to be to ensure that no DNA from the investigator ends up in the crime scene samples or that DNA traces are left behind. exchanged between pieces of evidence.”


Students find themselves in one of three possible
scenarios: a double robbery murder, a double
murder of passion, and a suspicious death that
could be a murder or suicide.
After the students have completed their virtual research, they formulate various hypotheses and prepare a report. Bekaert: “In the long run, we also want them to practice defending that report in a kind of trial court. To do this, we work together with our colleagues from the Faculty of Law and Criminological Sciences: their future lawyers can then challenge our trainee experts.”

The police can also benefit from using this application. In reality, you can only properly investigate a crime scene once. By practicing in a virtual reality environment, points for improvement can be quickly identified or police officers can become acquainted with the challenges of investigating a crime scene.

This VR application was developed by the Biomedical Technology Lab in collaboration with the STEPS Skills Center and the Education Expertise Center of the Faculty of Medicine.

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