Friday, March 13, 2015

Reflections from Forensic Science in Washington, DC

Our group on the lawn by the 
Washington Monument.
"We performed many labs and and learned many things. One of the labs that I will remember for a long time is the first lab we did. This lab was an actual crime scene investigation. Fred was killed and we had to find out who the killer was. We used witness statements, alibis, and phone records to compare who the possible suspects could have been. Once we narrowed it down between 3 people, we analyzed handwriting, clothing fibers, and DNA to conclude who our suspect was.

This was a memorable lab because for a long time I have been a huge fan of shows such as Criminal Minds and CSI. I think by watching these shows they could have helped influence some of the decisions I made. This trip has made a big impact on how I think about forensic scientists and what they do. I had originally thought their job would be boring and just looking at dead bodies all day. They don't. They do many other things that help out during an investigation. They can analyze ballistics of a gun shot, see how long a body has been dead, perform autopsies, and so much other cool stuff.

This trip was a lot of fun. And definitely heavily influenced what I may want to be when I'm older, a forensic biologist. "

Exploring the different weapons
effect on skulls at the
Crime Museum.
"Before this trip, I always wondered how scientists analyze evidence found at the crime scenes in drama television shows. During my visit this week, I understood a lot of facts and myths that take place during crime investigations. For example, different kinds of weapons can cause different patterns of blood spatter. By analyzing the patterns of blood spatter, the forensic biologists are able to find the most likely weapon that killed the victim. This kind of forensic biology can help the investigator target possible suspects who may have had access to this murder weapon. Then, we can analyze the fingerprints on the weapon, and if possible, narrow down the number of suspects in that range. Also, every person has his or her own task during the investigation, therefore it is impossible for a crime scene investigator to interrogate the suspects, which is usually shown in the crime shows."

Using a micropipette at JCVI
to load a DNA sample
into a gel electrophoresis.
"During this Washington, DC Forensic Biology trip, I learned more than I could have expected. Even though there were no cherry blossoms yet in this late winter, I am still impressed and in love with this clean, bright and friendly city with majestic buildings and passionate people. My favorite activity during this trip was the day at JCVI, a research center for DNA developments. We went into the labs and offices where scientists work, and we did an experiment to evaluate DNA and apply it to animal forensic biology. This is my first experience working as a real scientist, and I feel the passions and rigorous attitudes from the young scientists in the labs, which strengthened my determination to become a scientist."

We had a unit on forensic anthropology.
"I feel that forensics is, in the modern world, intrinsic to crime-solving. The use of science, whether through DNA tracing or studying corpses or matching firearms, makes crime-solving considerably easier and more efficient. It helps law enforcement gather better evidence, and be more likely to convict the actual perpetrator of the crime. I find that it is a fascinating use of science, and possibly something to pursue as a career someday. I feel this way particularly about forensic anthropology, which has been the most fascinating to me for a long time."

By measuring the size of the bullet we can
tell what type of gun it may have come from.
"This week I learned a lot about jobs in science and what some jobs really mean. It got me really thinking about what jobs people can actually have and what I might like to do, such as a forensic biologist, chemist or pathologist. I have known for a bit that I would like a job in science, and this trip made me think about specific degrees and courses necessary to become a forensic scientist. It helped me with what I was really interested in, which is anthropology and biology, specifically dealing with lab work. I liked getting an inside view of people in the field."

Our DNA samples in the
gel electrophoresis.
"During this project, I have learned a lot about real life forensics. Up till now, I actually thought that the methods and clothing forensic scientists used were like the ones we see on TV shows like Criminal Minds and NCIS. However, this was proven wrong when we visited JCVI, a private company that specialized in the knowledge of DNA structure and replication, and worked with scientists there. When we visited the Museum of Crime and Punishment, we had lessons on anthropology, pathology and autopsy.

My favorite lesson was the lesson on firearms. We discussed the different types of guns and their classification. The first one was the short firearms, which included guns like the revolver and the handgun. The shoulder rifles include the shotguns and bored barrel rifles. The instructor showed their casings and multiple bullets. She explained how handguns like the GLOCK pistols work by using a cross-section animation of one. She even had a working gun with the firing pin removed on display for everyone. She talked about gun shot wounds, and cap bullets that are designed to lodge themselves into their targets."

Dyeing the DNA in ink
so we can see it in the gel.
"I have learned many things this week in this nation’s capital. I learned the ins and outs of solving a murder case. It gave me new respect for the challenges and complexities modern day detectives and crime scene investigators face. I have learned the steps an investigator must take to catch a criminal such as: marking and identifying a crime scene, finding and tracking a murder weapon, identifying and ruling out suspects, gathering evidence, determining time and cause of death, and more. Their job is not an easy one. There is lots of science and math involved in the day to day life of any investigator. That being said the entire trip has been thoroughly interesting, whether it was the awesome museums or the crazy monuments, it was a great week."

DNA microchip.
"Over the last week we have been going at a nonstop momentum. I have learned that I would love to be a medical examiner. I would love to be a medical examiner because they get to cut open dead bodies and figure out how they died. They get to determine if the death was natural or unnatural. Dead bodies and all, it just interests me so much. I have always been interested in this field, and by coming on this trip it sealed the deal with what I want to do with my life. I am so happy I got to go on this project week adventure."

Ms. Karla Stucker explaining animal forensics.
"This week was very interesting and it really peaked my interest as a potential forensic scientist. It was amazing for all of us to be able to go into all of the labs and learn so much we didn't know before.

The first thing that opened my eyes was that blood splatter is incorrect and it is actually blood spatter. Also, it was interesting comparing the reality of forensic jobs and the televised forensic jobs. While I knew there was more than one person working a case, I did not know that there are that many people working together as a team. I learned that each person has a very specific job and many do not have more than one job. They portray this incorrectly in television and show a couple people doing the entire case. Now it will be difficult watching shows that portray this because I know it is wrong."

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