Criminalistics: Week 1

Though I’m starting to realize this about the block plan, it still astonishes me how much you can learn in a week. Coming into class Monday, my forensic knowledge had pretty much consisted of whatever tidbits I picked up from the occasional CSI or Dexter episode. So, needless to say, our first task of solving a Sherlock Holmes mystery seemed like a daunting one. Provided with just a story, Sherlock’s chemical tests, and the evidence we needed to recreate the crime, each group went to work in the lab. After just over an hour – and much to our surprise – each of us had formulated a plausible theory that seemed to hold up. We presented our conclusions the next day, solving mysteries ranging from a death in a limestone quarry to a daring prison escape.

The next day also presented an excuse for a current events discussion – Amanda Knox had been exonerated and freed from Italian prison. Applying the night’s reading to her case, we were able to discuss the shortcomings of the way the case was conducted and the mishandling of the crime scene that led to eventual contamination of the evidence.

But the best thing about this week, in my opinion? The labs. On Tuesday afternoon, we trooped up to the chemistry lab to learn about blood spatter analysis. Dropping our fake blood samples from different heights, we were able to see the varying diameters it creates on impact and the way different angles of blood spatter form patterns. The lab would have then been completed with tests to find the real blood compared to a fake sample, but our class seemed to enjoy the blood throwing a bit too much and ended up staying longer.

The next technique to add to our repertoire was one I was well familiar with from my crime shows – fingerprinting. But until I got to lab, I had no idea there were so many ways to lift fingerprints. We began with practice taking each other’s fingerprints, and then moved on to dusting various surfaces with the specialized powder. Though I’d seen fingerprinting done before, I was surprised to see a station in which we were lifting fingerprints off paper. Apparently criminals aren’t even safe there – a simple spray of ninhydrin acetone solution left to dry on paper will reveal all. The lab finished with superglue fuming that’s used to reveal fingerprints on surfaces like glass bottles, and we left enlightened. This lab was probably my favorite activity of the week, even though I’m fairly sure my hands still have traces of the ink.