Family Picks

Teaching the kids how to figure it out for themselves

CorrespondentFebruary 7, 2013 

  • What you’ll learn Here are five things that visitors might learn in the Lab during Forensic February:

    1. Learn how to track clues on an evidence board, using the methods of a real forensic scientist.

    2. Find a clue in the belly of a fruit fly – their stomachs are see-through, so we can study what they ate.

    3. Every fingerprint pattern is unique, but the most common shape, the loop, is found on more than 50 percent of the world’s fingers.

    4. Not all fabrics are created equal – a natural fiber, like cotton, will turn a different color in dye than a synthetic fiber like nylon.

    5. The colors of a ballpoint pen act differently than a permanent marker when put to a chromatography test.

Do you ever find yourself asking your child to please, just this once, find her shoes without your help? Or asking him to use his powers of reasoning to figure out where that lunchbox might be?

If so, this month’s special event at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham is for you. “Forensic February” is devoted to helping kids search for clues and solve life’s little mysteries – a skill in which almost every kid can use a little practice.

“Forensic science is not just about CSI,” said Anna Engelke, a lab educator at the museum. “It’s about really being able to step back and use your observational skills. It’s about collecting clues and having the skills to analyze them. It’s something you use to solve mysteries in your everyday life.”

All month, kids can participate in an effort to catch a prankster who is creating havoc around the museum by rearranging furniture, leaving behind sparkly solutions and eating the butterflies’ food. Each week, there will be a new clue revealed and a new experiment that will help solve the crime, involving intrepid activities like fingerprint dusting and fiber analysis.

Forensic science activities include:

• This Friday and Saturday, kids can dust for fingerprints and use a chemical solution to uncover footprints on special paper.

• Next week, they can analyze animal hairs under a microscope and do a dye test to identify fibers.

• The week of Feb. 19, participants will examine the exoskeletons of bugs and other invertebrates. They can also use microscopes to determine the diets of fruit flies.

• And the week of Feb. 26, they can examine a note left at the crime scene, using handwriting analysis to determine who wrote it and chromatography to figure out what type of pen was used.

All activities are free with admission and take place in the lab on the museum’s second floor. The lab is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

While you’re there, you also have the run of the 84-acre science park, with live animals, several innovative outdoor play areas, a sailboat pond, a train and a butterfly house.

Engelke said she hopes children who help solve the crime will go home with some new approaches to problem-solving.

Your child might not need to dust for fingerprints or determine the diets of fruit flies at home. But maybe the next he loses his jacket, he will be able to gather clues and solve the mystery on his own.

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