On November 21, 2014, from 1-3 PM, local author and scientist Dr. Lindsey Carmichael will be signing her 12th children’s science book at Chapters in Dartmouth.
Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting Gets Wild is based in part on forensic cases Carmichael investigated while pursuing her PhD at the University of Alberta. “Many people don’t realize that the same techniques used to solve human crimes are also used for crimes against animals, like the recent poaching of a mainland Nova Scotia moose,” she said. “Those techniques include DNA fingerprinting.” In addition to DNA fingerprints she produced for her graduate research, Carmichael did genetic testing for 15 wildlife cases and testified as an expert witness.
Fuzzy Forensics focuses on Carmichael’s most unusual case, the “kidnapping” of a wild elk and her calf. The book traces this story from the initial investigation, through the science in the lab, and finally into the courtroom. “When I started working on the book,” Carmichael said, “my goal was simple—to introduce kids to an important and little-known aspect of forensic science. In the end, however, it became about honouring the dedicated men and women who devote their lives to protecting wildlife, both in Canada and around the world.”
Two of the people Carmichael wishes to honour are Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officer Richard Servetnyk and Canadian Food Inspection Agency veterinarian Ralph Burt, who were pivotal to this and many other investigations. Both men passed away during the writing of Fuzzy Forensics. “I dedicated the book to them,” Carmichael said, “and I really hope kids are inspired by their examples.”
The book has been well-received by children and adults alike. In August, Carmichael toured Alberta, where she did crime-busting experiments with kids at the Telus World of Science, and captivated an entire junior high with the “yuckier” side of forensic science. Fuzzy Forensics has also been endorsed by renowned forensic anthropologist and best-selling author, Kathy Reichs. “I respect her scientific and creative work so much,” Carmichael said, “I haven’t been able to stop fangirling since I got the news.”
Publishing as L.E. Carmichael, she writes to fire the young imagination and to share the sense of wonder she gained in her career as a scientist. “I love going down little rabbit trails hunting for information I think people will love. Writing for kids reopens my eyes to how fascinating the world is – it’s an amazing, incredible place, and there’s no excuse for boredom. There are so many things to get kids excited about,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael’s previous children’s books cover everything from hybrid cars to living with scoliosis. Her first title with Ashby-BP, Fox Talk: How Some Very Special Animals Helped Scientists Understand Communication, was a finalist in the 2013 USA Best Book Awards and won a silver medal in the 2014 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards. Like Fuzzy Forensics, Fox Talk draws a bit on her PhD thesis, Ecological Genetics of Northern Wolves and Arctic Foxes, for which she received the Governor General’s Medal. Fox Talk explores the links between domesticated foxes and the scientists who tamed them.
“In terms of their behaviour towards people, these foxes are as tame as dogs – they love to be petted, they ask for love. But they’re still foxes, and they have unique behaviours,” Carmichael said. Fox Talk hit bookstores just as the unrelated Ylvis video went viral. “I can’t even tell you how many people have asked me ‘What does the fox say?’” Carmichael joked. “The answer’s in chapter 4—and it’s not ‘ring ding ding ding.’”
This fall, Carmichael is also celebrating the release of Amazing Feats of Civil Engineering, a teen book that describes the construction of the Panama Canal, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and Canada’s own Confederation Bridge. “As a former geneticist, I never thought I’d spend so much time researching concrete,” Carmichael said. “But as with all my book projects, I became completely engrossed in the information. Much like wildlife officers, civil engineers don’t get nearly the respect their work deserves.”
In addition to books, Carmichael writes magazine articles and short stories that have been published in Dig, Highlights for Children, Kiki, and Canadian Tales of the Fantastic.
“I never outgrew that stage of childhood when nothing’s more fun than amazing your friends (and correcting your teachers) with your stockpile of weird and wonderful facts,” Carmichael said.
Lindsey Carmichael lives with her husband Brian and two polydactyl cats near Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she is a writing tutor at Saint Mary’s University.