This month we’re investigating forensics and the science of crime scene investigation. Today, investigators rely on science to tell the story of a crime. High-tech cameras snap detailed crime scene pictures. Microscopes allow scientists to examine and identify the tiniest pieces of evidence. Understanding DNA and blood typing has created ways to tie a suspect to a crime scene without an eyewitness. Today, no one needs to catch a criminal in the act in order to solve a crime. The tools and techniques of science allow investigators to track down a criminal long after he or she has left the crime scene.
The books we’re highlighting this month show how science is used in crime scene investigations to find out what happened at a crime scene. They are a great starting point for different science activities and discussions in the classroom. Here are a few to try:
Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA by Bridget Heos
Crime scene investigation is not new; early detectives discovered ways to test for poisons, and conducted autopsies to determine cause of death. Over the years, crime-solving tools have become more sophisticated as technology improves. This book examines evidence from prints to ballistics, blood spatter to DNA and more.
• Make a timeline of the evolution of forensics and crime scene investigation.
• Discuss how changes in forensic science have changed the way investigators solve crimes today. Have students research a famous unsolved crime from the past (such as the Zodiac killings, the Whitechapel murders, or the Marilyn Sheppard murder) and discuss how modern forensic methods might have made a difference in solving these crimes.
Fingerprints : Dead People Do Tell Tales by Chana Stiefel
Fingerprints are unique identifiers. Not even identical twins have the same fingerprints. This book explains the techniques scientists use to collect fingerprints and to identify criminals, and contains stories about how fingerprints helped solve real crimes.
• Have students examine their own fingerprints and find the marks and patterns that make them unique. Ask them to figure out how many of each type of fingerprint pattern they have among all 10 of their fingers. Have them compare their results with classmates.
• Have students try to lift fingerprints from a clear, hard surface. Have them sprinkle cocoa powder over the surface and gently brush. Next, have students place a piece of clear tape on the fingerprint and gently peel the tape off to lift the print. They can also experiment lifting fingerprints using different surfaces and powders.
• Have students attempt to match fingerprints taken from their classmates. Have them look for the patterns and characteristics that make each fingerprint unique.
Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker
Forensic scientists use their knowledge of human remains to help solve mysteries of remains found in colonial-era graves near Jamestown, Virginia. Using science, they help recreate the lives of a ship’s captain, an enslaved African girl, and more.
• Ask students to discuss what it means to be a forensic anthropologist. How does the job of a forensic anthropologist differ from that of a crime scene investigator?
• Often forensic anthropologists do not have an intact body or skeleton to examine. Instead, they build a picture of the victim with on a few bones as clues. Have students research how forensic anthropologists use the humerus bone (upper arm) and the tibia bone (inner leg) to predict the victim’s height. Have them test the correlation between height and bones by taking measurements from their classmates. Have them create a formula to predict the height from the length of a tibia or humerus bone. Then have students test their formula with measurements from another group of volunteers.
• What have forensic anthropologists added to our knowledge of the past? Have students choose and research a famous forensic anthropologist. Ask students to pair up and discuss how two different forensic anthropologists added to our knowledge of the past.
Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.