Crime

How does science help solve crimes? Students get answers at crime lab’s open house

Public invited to state crime lab

Students and the public were invited to an open house hosted by the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory Wednesday, October 4, 2017 in honor of National Forensic Science Week.
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Students and the public were invited to an open house hosted by the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory Wednesday, October 4, 2017 in honor of National Forensic Science Week.

Some Triangle youngsters saw demonstrations of science at work Wednesday afternoon when officials at North Carolina’s State Crime Laboratory welcomed them to the lab’s annual open house.

Amanda Thompson, assistant director of administrative operations at the crime lab, said the fourth annual open house was held in conjunction with National Forensic Science Week and aimedto attract elementary and high school students who may be interested in careers as forensic scientists.

“We have a lot of regular tours for college-age students,” she said. “This is a prime opportunity to anyone 18 and under.”

The event was held at the lab’s mammoth, red-brick building tucked in a wooded area off East Tryon Road.

It included demonstrations and information about trace and latent evidence, digital forensics, firearms and ballistics testing, along with DNA analysis. In real time, the youngsters were given the opportunity to peer through a microscope to see evidence of sexual assault. They helped conduct experiments to confirm the evidence of blood collected from crime scenes, they wore special glasses that enabled them to spot evidence unseen to the naked eye, and they talked with scientists about testing firearms for evidence.

Home-school teacher Erin Simmons of Fuquay-Varina attended the open house with her sons Mac, 13, Cameron, 11, and Callen, who is nearly 4. She called the open house “the science of the real world.”

“It’s science out of the textbooks,” Simmons said. “Every boy likes a superhero. These are real-world superheroes who go out and catch the bad guys.”

Cameron said his favorite part of the tour was the fingerprinting demonstration.

The state crime lab was established in 1938. Before that, the state relied on Duke University Hospital for forensic testing.

“They were doing very basic stuff – firearms examinations, fingerprinting, handwriting analysis and basic photography,” said Alison Gantt, a forensic scientist at the state lab.

The facility was housed in downtown Raleigh, then eventually shared space with the State Bureau of Investigation on Garner Road before moving to its present location in 1996.

On Wednesday, forensic scientist Andrew Walker conducted a test to determine whether red-colored substances collected from a mock crime scene were actually blood. He folded a circular paper about the size of a half-dollar and rubbed it against one of the samples. Then he applied three colorless liquid chemicals that would turn the sample a light pink color if it was blood.

“It’s a very science-heavy discipline,” Gantt said. “Biology, chemistry, the physical sciences, genetics, molecular biology. The biggest misconception is that you can work here with a criminal justice degree. That will not get you a job at the lab.”

Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonaldt

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