Katherine MacAlister talks to Steve Le Comber about Science Oxford gig

Evolutionary biologist Dr Steve Le Comber is a typical scientist, delighted to be talking about his work and reticent about discussing himself.

He speaks terribly fast in a thick Scottish accent and uses long scientific words that I need to look up in the dictionary, but he is also absolutely fascinating.

And considering that he’s on the brink of a massive epidemiological breakthrough, Dr Steve is remarkably laid back for one whose time has finally arrived.

To cut a long story short, the senior lecturer at Queen Mary University’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, has successfully applied criminal profiling to everything from diseases and invasive animals, to the migration of mosquitos and the foraging of bats.

Historically, geographic profiling has been used to track down serial killers, rapists and criminals, through a mathematical model that is now widely used across the world, narrowing down the field of suspects quickly and considerably.

Dr Steve used and refined Canadian criminologist Kim Rossmo’s model, to help contain malaria at its source, making it a proactive rather than preventative approach.

The problem now is getting the model out there. Aid agencies and government health departments need to see proof, which is what Dr Steve is currently working on, specifically in Egypt.

Coming to Science Oxford to discuss The Serial Killer Formula, and demonstrate his findings, he will also be conducting a live social experiment on the audience.

So what motivates him?

“Kim does it to make the world a better place. I do it because it’s fun,” he says honestly.

“I just do work I’m interested in,” he says, adding that he finds all his work exciting, and that tomorrow someone might invent or discover something better that makes his work redundant.

In the meantime, however, the 49-year-old’s trials in Cairo speak for themselves on instantly narrowing down infected mosquito sites, and it is surely only a matter of time before his new data is used worldwide.

“Well quite rightly people want to make sure that it works, especially when they have scant resources,” he says reasonably.

“Because while it doesn’t give you exact locations, just as it doesn’t give you the criminal’s address, it does tell you where the criminal or malarial site is based.”

Appearing as one of the highlights in Science Oxford’s extensive autumn programme, Dr Steve has since applied his model to sharks, bees, bats, mosquitoes and invasive species.

Working on other exciting projects from tracking down Jack the Ripper, (he and Kim narrowed it down to Flower and Dean Street, which lay just off Brick Lane in Whitechapel, which no longer exists after being bombed in the Second World War) to a top secret 1942 Gestapo investigation, Dr Steve now travels around the world, making a growing number of public appearances.

For Science Oxford’s full autumn programme see scienceoxfordlive.com.

Where and when
The Serial Killer Formula
Thursday, October 22
The Old Fire Station