Lorna Dawson CBE

Head of Forensic Soil Science, James Hutton Institute

And - Recognised Commander of the Order of the British Empire 2018 for Services to Soil and Forensic Science


Science is scintillating, technology is transformational, engineering is essential and maths is marvellous.

What do you do?

I run a unit at the James Hutton Institute that specialises in delivering excellent services to the criminal justice system in relation to soil and plant information. For example helping police in search operations or providing evidence in court to help get close to the truth as to what happened when a serious crime is committed. I also enjoy training students, police, forensic practitioners and lawyers globally so the standards improve across the world.

Why did you choose this field?

I saw an opportunity to develop and deliver excellent science in this trans discipline area from soil science to law and policing. I could see where my experience and knowledge in soil science could assist in improving how that area of science could be used in improving aspects of the criminal justice system.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

To stand up in court and present my results with confidence. I had been a quiet and shy girl and could never have seen myself standing speaking in court. Now I have trained to communicate in the court forum my science subject with the confidence that a good education and excellent training in science and law and life experience has given me.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I wake up excited every single day to carry out my diverse range of work. No two days are ever the same. New challenges and new opportunities to advance science and assist the police, and help society become safer. With science there’s many different ways of looking at results and much better ways of communicating results.

Best advice for next generation?

Do what you are good at, enjoy yourself." Girls can be at the forefront of the development and application of these dynamic subjects. Follow that dream.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“The devils in the detail”. Something I always remember when looking at datasets. Also that “context is everything in forensic science”. Perhaps then the detail of the devil is in the con man’s text! And Sherlock Holmes is my true historic hero as the first (albeit fictitious) person to use soil in forensic science.

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