CSI Columbus: Students learn forensic science

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High school students investigate a staged crime scene at forensics camp.(Photo: Elsa Youngsteadt)
High school students investigate a staged crime scene at forensics camp.(Photo: Elsa Youngsteadt)

A group of high school students is learning all about crime scene investigation during summer forensics camp. Ballistics, fingerprints, cadaver dogs, crime scene photography, and DNA analysis are among the topics in their action-packed schedule. Forensic camp students investigated a staged crime scene at Ohio State University’s Waterman Farm on Lane Avenue.

“Me and some colleagues came out here and buried the bodies in May,” Jules Angel said.

Angel is the forensics camp coordinator, with ten years of experience as a crime scene photographer for Scotland Yard, and another ten as an archaeologist. She buried the bodies months ago so they would adjust to their environment before the camp.

“Of course they’re not real bodies, they’re just Halloween skeletons dressed up in clothing,” she said.

Angel knows how to set up a good crime scene. For some of her students, excavating these plastic victims of foul play has been the highlight of the eleven day camp.

Kelsie Polak will be a freshman at Metro High School this fall. She enjoys the sense of discovery as she and her team uncover their skeleton.

“Well the digging is really fun because I like it when we find new stuff and it makes me feel really smart and stuff,” Polak said.

Fun is good, but camp sponsors and organizers, which include Metro High School, Battelle, Ohio State University Department of Anthropology and the PAST foundation, have an ulterior motive. Camp Coordinator Angel says it’s about science.

“The idea behind it is to try and get students interested in science,” Angel said. “There were some figures out not so long ago which sort of said about 17% of students were interested in science, which is not a lot. So this is a way of really getting a hands-on application of many different types of science.”

Not only is it hands-on, forensic science is fashionable, with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation hovering among the most popular TV shows.

“The kids are very into CSI, they’re very into Law and Order,” Angel said. “They’re very into all those kind of shows on TV that depict forensic science. So we have our hook right there. So we can bring them in and show them how a real CSI works.”

They’ve caught on quickly that the TV version isn’t quite accurate. DeJane Daniel will be a freshman at Metro High School this fall.

“When you actually see CSI, and then after you’ve done all these things you look at it and you’re like that was so wrong, and everything,” Daniel said. “You’re like that’s so unreal. But I still like the show. It’s alright.”

Daniel says she’s not good at science, and is more interested in the crime scene photography. Yet her favorite part of the camp was extracting DNA from blood and looking at it on an electrophoresis gel. On the final day of the camp, the students will take their evidence before a panel of lawyers, to see whether their case holds up.

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