You've seen it hundreds of times on TV — bagging the evidence at the crime scene, analyzing it in the lab, narrowing it down to "persons of interest," using hair samples, facial reconstruction, blood spatter, toxicology — but it's not so simple, as you'll learn if you take the hands-on CSI and Forensics weekend at ScienceWorks in Ashland, Feb. 18-21.
After a little class on crime scene analysis, you walk into a mock crime scene at a staged campground, where you find a disheveled campsite, shell casings, fire pit, animal pelts, a plastic bag containing human remains hidden under some leaves, some blood spatter, tire tracks, beer cans and a white powder.
The popular event, started with the Girl Scouts last year, is open to the public — with families encouraged to come — and will give you direct experience with all the crime scene analysis techniques you see on TV.
Aside from the glamour of crime-busting on the tube, the attraction, said the event's creator, Nicolaj Imhof, seems to be that it's a field where you can use "real science," hands-on, in a team and achieve positive results.
Imhof presents the event at Armadillo Technical Institute in Phoenix and at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry but says the ScienceWorks event will be much more hands-on, with participants getting a forensic notebook, "official crime solver ID photo" and a lab, equipped with microscopes and lab coats, to work in.
"They'll dust for fingerprints, make tire prints and analyze blood spatter (no exposure to real blood)," says ScienceWorks Education Director Skoski Wise. "It shows kids how science is used in real-life applications. One mom said it was better than OMSI and the Portland Zoo and she was blown out of the water."
Criminalist Jeff Dovci of the Oregon State Police in Central Point on Friday evening will teach students how to do CSI and separate reality from TV, so that you understand "no DNA can be done between morning coffee break and lunch — and that forensic scientists are not cops and don't interrogate or arrest suspects.
"Most people become very familiar with forensics from TV, and they find it intriguing," says Dovci, a veteran analyst of many homocide scenes, "but most people don't get to see into how it really works and they're looking forward to it." Criminology and criminal justice teacher Lee Ayers of Southern Oregon University says participants will analyze human hair under a microscope and see how it's "shingled" and very different in appearance from cotton or synthetic fibers. They will analyze the loops and whorls of fingerprints and put flesh on an artificial human skull, then compare it with mugshots of suspects.
"TV is not as real or possible as you believe, as you'll see when you go through the process in a lab and see how a case comes together," says Ayers. "It's geared to expose the truth and it's tougher than the instant results on TV. It's rewarding and a lot of fun."
The motto of the forensics profession, which some of her SOU students have on their t-shirts, she says, is "People lie; evidence doesn't."
The workship is offered as a one-hour class Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 19 and 20 at noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m., for $4. On Monday, it will be at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m.
A three-hour class will be 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. It's $15 for ScienceWorks members or $20 for non-members. It's recommended for ages 9 and up and "is not for everyone."