Science Outreach: Solving the Puzzle

Gayatri Phadke/ June 26, 2017/ Education, Science/ 0 comments

Science Outreach: Solving the Puzzle

Keeping children interested in chemistry for a whole science outreach day is exhausting. What if forensic investigations was the way to go?

It’s not surprising that criminal investigations are keeping people entertained, on TV or podcasts. Currently, 4 of the top 20 podcasts find their roots in investigative journalism. NCIS and Law and Order have been on marathon re-runs for nearly decades. I’ve been sucked down that rabbit-hole myself.

Forensic science is at the center of some of my best times from undergraduate years. It brought together chemists, biologists, physicists, lawyers, and even sociologists and psychologists. Ever since then, I have realized the value of combining science outreach with forensics. While chemistry experiments can be colorful, often they do not form a story-line and that’s precisely what forensics provides. I’m outlining here a primer for forensic science-based outreach and a few resources from science societies and advocates.

  • pH Testing: Though a basic test, this is a good starting point for discussions on soil testing. An easy to learn tool, such as this, that students can use at home will keep their interest beyond the classroom.
    1. pH testing demo

2. Forensic Soil Analysis – Basics

  • Fingerprints: There are several simple experiments for fingerprint development, using common Superglue or Iodine or carbon powder. The visual results and following discussion about chemistry of sweat and development chemistry combines both chemistry and biology.
    Super glue experiment

2. Iodine experiment

3. Fingerprinting fundamentals 

  • Ink Detection: A simple paper or thin layer chromatography can be used to show utility of chemical separations in forensics. A collection of inks can be separated alongside an unknown. The instructor can expand the discussion to separation of pharmaceuticals, drugs, paints, etc.

    1. Ink analysis video

2. Fundamentals and Applications of Chromatography 

  • Metal Analysis: A simple metal test can be demonstrated to show importance of chemical analysis in forensics. The flames test for metals is a good correlation to the type of analysis performed on old painting or metal tools for identification purposes.

    1. Flame Test Demo

2. Basics of Metal analysis 

Forensics is the perfect confluence of several different disciplines and similar such outreach experiments could be planned for different scientific subjects, such as physics (hair analysis, shoe-print analysis) or biology (decomposition analysis, blood analysis). Forensics is also adaptive to different academic levels and several resources can be found for undergraduate students as well.

American Chemical Society

Investigating Chemistry: A Forensic Science Perspective by Matthew E. Johll


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