Helping to improve the standards for forensic science work

Facial reconstruction models in a lab

Our new, free, online course Forensic Facial Reconstruction: Finding Mr X traces the investigation of a real crime case to examine how forensic science techniques can be used to determine the identity of an unknown person.

The ‘Body in the Bag’ was a murder case, which was solved using forensic techniques, including a facial reconstruction of the victim, who police had called ‘Mr X’.

The hunt to identify ‘Mr X’, however, is only part of the story, as the course also seeks to provide an insight into the different pathways that can lead to a career in forensic science.  

Forensic Facial Reconstruction poster. Search 'Mr X' at

Dr Katherine Linehan, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Biomedical Science, wanted to create a resource for students on her Forensic Anatomy module that would explain the application of facial reconstruction within the broader field of forensic science.

Dr Linehan approached the Online Learning Team to develop a course that would highlight the link between the rare technique of Facial Reconstruction and the subject of forensic anatomy, as well as the important role that this technique can play in police investigations.

In the case of Mr X, a forensic facial reconstruction was the key to identifying the victim and solving the crime.

The course features interviews with specialists in facial reconstruction, including Senior Forensic Scientist Nikki Taylor who conducted the original reconstruction of Mr X whilst working at The University of Sheffield, and Professor Caroline Wilkinson whose high-profile work includes Richard III, St Nicolas and J.S. Bach.

This year, all students enrolled on the Forensic Anatomy module will complete the FutureLearn course as part of their studies, marking the first occasion where Sheffield students have been invited to learn alongside the wider public in an online course.

It is our hope that this diverse cohort will create a rich learning experience, encouraging Sheffield students to share their advanced knowledge whilst also benefiting from the experiences of other learners who may include forensic experts and practitioners as well couch detectives.

This course comes at a time where standards in forensic science in England are at risk of slipping. Forensic Science Regulator, Gillian Tully has today warned that the quality of forensic science work in England and Wales is risking the integrity of the criminal justice system, calling for more funding for this vital work from the National Police Chiefs Council. Tully suggests that we face a loss in confidence in forensic science if statutory standards aren’t enforced.

This is where free online courses on forensic science can have a positive influence. Forensic Facial Reconstruction: Finding Mr X will give learners a taste of higher-education teaching and an insight into how further study can lead to a career in forensic science. It is our hope that this course will inspire learners to continue their studies and seek a qualification, either at the University of Sheffield or elsewhere. Perhaps then, they’ll be able to play a part in raising the standards of the forensic sciences in the country.

Forensic Facial Reconstruction: Finding Mr X is a free, open online course from the Department of Biomedical Science at the University of Sheffield. It launches on the 6th February 2017 and you can learn more about at FutureLearn.

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About Dave Holloway

Dave Holloway
Dave Holloway is a Production Manager in the University of Sheffield's Online Learning Team. In previous professional lives, Dave has been a filmmaker, editor, VJ, and events producer, notably with FutureEverything and Sheffield Doc/Fest.

2 thoughts on “Helping to improve the standards for forensic science work

    1. Hi Mary, the course does touch on digital forensic facial reconstruction. In the second week we briefly discuss the software and hardware Professor Caroline Wilkinson at Facelab uses to produce facial reconstructions.

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