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Wednesday 25 November 2020 9:13am

Liberty Ockwell image
Jules Kieser Memorial Trust Award recipient Liberty Ockwell.

During a New Year's poker game four people were dealt their cards but one had a very bad hand.

Looking past her biases and focusing on the science helped Liberty Ockwell to become the first Jules Kieser Memorial Trust Award recipient, for being top student in Otago's Forensic Biology Summer School paper, FORB201.

This year the inaugural award was given to Liberty, a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) student and Bachelor of Science (Biochemistry) graduand. She received $500 for being the top student in the class.

FORB201 presents students with a mock crime scene, usually following a New Year's poker game, and six weeks to gather and analyse evidence, listen to guest lecturers, self-reflect, think critically and hopefully figure out whodunnit.

In the course students hear from an array of guest lecturers from forensic scientists to police officers. They also get to run a variety of tests in the lab and at the scene including maggots, DNA evidence, lifting fingerprints, bite mark analysis, forensic chemistry (drug analysis) and document analysis.

Course Co-ordinator Dr Angela Clark says the course gives students the opportunity to expand their critical thinking and understand their own preconceptions and judgements.

“I really liked how it just gave you the opportunity to focus on one part of the course that might not have been covered as extensively and you could follow up on it on your own.”

“It's an opportunity for real personal growth and gain which they might not do in other degrees and papers, in addition to doing something really interesting and fun over the summer.”

For Liberty the opportunity to try and solve a murder is right up her alley, having developed an interest in forensics from an early age.

She found the paper bridged a gap between her two degrees.

Her favourite part of the paper was the essay, in which she took on the role of a coroner following a fictitious natural disaster.

“I really liked how it just gave you the opportunity to focus on one part of the course that might not have been covered as extensively and you could follow up on it on your own.”

As Liberty prepares to finish her time at Otago she won't be forgetting FORB201 any time soon.

Her long-term goal is to work in medical and coronial law, something the course cemented her interest in. But for now, she's just hoping to practice law in the context of science.

The Jules Kieser Memorial Trust Award will be again awarded to the top student in the 2021 class.

Professor Jules A Kieser, BSc BDS PhD DSc FLS FDSRCS(Ed) FFSSoc FICD FFOMP(RCPA)

Professor Jules Kieser

Professor Jules A Kieser was a dynamic academic who made outstanding contributions to teaching and research at the University and to forensic services in New Zealand and abroad.

Born in Pretoria, South Africa, in December 1950, Professor Kieser obtained a Bachelor of Science from the University of Witwatersrand and qualified as a dentist in 1975.

He completed a compulsory year in the army before heading to the outback of South Africa to practice. He subsequently practiced in London and Johannesburg. In 1989 he received a PhD and was appointed as Reader in Craniofacial Biology and Honorary Professor of Anatomy at Witwatersand.

In 1996 he was appointed to the Chair, and Head of the Department of Oral Sciences at Otago. Subsequently he obtained a Doctor of Science in 2001 and was awarded an ad hominem Fellowship in Dental Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. In recent years he was elected as a professional Fellow of the Forensic Science Society (UK).

He was also named the Inaugural Director of the Sir John Walsh Research Institute in 2009.

Professor Kieser had many research interests including oral biomechanics, anatomy, paleoanthropology and paleopathology. He was also a valued member of the Dunedin forensic odontology team.

He was a valuable member of the Dunedin forensic odontology team. In addition to assisting local police with forensic investigations he received commendations for his contribution to disaster victim identification after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.

Among his many achievements he wrote give books on odontometrics, oral biology, practical anatomy, dental genetics, forensic biometrics and some 200 research articles and chapters.

One of his many long-lasting achievements was the establishment of FORB201.

To honour Professor Kieser, following his tragic passing in 2014, the Faculty of Dentistry and Sir John Walsh Research Institute established the Jules Kieser Memorial Trust. This Trust is an enduring tribute to the memory of Professor Kieser and will award a prize to the top student from FORB201 each year.

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