How do police collect evidence? Can investigators find characteristics of the perpetrator through footprints? Why is handwriting important in solving crimes? What is so unique about fingerprints?
Monday, September 26, we explored these questions at my weekly Scientesses workshop. The theme was forensics. I was a little weary talking about crimes with the girls, especially since some of them are in first or second grade, but I made sure I never used the word death, suicide, homicide, or murder.
I had the same amount of girls attend the forensics workshop as the genetic one, but three girls didn’t return and three new ones took their place. I’m not really concerned about the numbers, however, and I understand things come up or maybe they just were not that hooked on the first workshop.
I started off the workshop with me asking the girls if they have heard of shows like NCIS or CSI, most girls said they have never watched them but a few shared that they had seen the commercials. I used this a jumping off point to briefly explain how police solve crimes.
The first activity I had planned was a handwriting analysis. The girls were to all write their names on the whiteboard, then write “Watch Jeopardy! Alex Trebek’s fun TV quiz game” on a sheet of paper. On the back of the paper I asked them to print their initials as tiny as possible. Once everyone was finished I collected the papers, laid them out on a table, and assigned a number to each. The girls then came up and tried to see if they could match the handwritten phrase to the name on the whiteboard. They actually got really into it and I and the librarian had to remind them it was a game and they could just guess. At the end, I held each paper up and asked the girls who they though it belonged to. After everyone was finished sharing their guesses, I had the girl who wrote it stand up and reveal herself. Everyone really enjoyed this game and I would highly recommend it. It taught the girls how if the criminal left a ransom note, the police might be able to use the handwriting to track the criminal.
Once I went through all the handwriting samples, we moved on to fingerprints. I explained how everybody’s fingerprints are unique and that they will never change, even if you have a finger injury or scar. Because I did not have an ink pad, I had the girls rub pencil lead on an index card and then use that as a makeshift pad. I had a paper with different types of fingerprints so I asked the girls to determine which type theirs were: whorl, loop, arch, etc. Mostly everybody was able to determine their type. We had a pretty good mix.
In the last activity, I measured the length of each girl’s foot and compared it to her height. Some girls chose to have to do the division by themselves, but the librarian and I did it for others. It came out that there is a foot:height ratio of between 1:6 and 1:7. I described how police officers use this known ratio to estimate the height of the criminal, if they find a footprint they could multiply its length by any number between 6 and 7 to get a rough approximation of the criminal’s height. Besides height, the footprint could also reveal where the criminal has been (because scientists can analyze the mud/dirt) and the weight of the criminal (because of the depth of the imprint).
At the end of the workshop, I told the girls about Frances Glessner Lee, “the mother of genetics.” To me, her determination in problem solving is very inspiring and she is one of my favorite female scientists I have read of thus far. You can read more about her here: https://scientesses.wordpress.com/?p=195
Overall, the forensics workshop was a success and I am elated that the girls enjoyed it.