Lesson number one: TV gets crime scene investigation all wrong. Just ask the students in Alexis Mattson’s Forensic Science class at Lowry High School.
The Forensic Science class introduces students to the hows and whys involved in criminal investigation. This is the first year the school has offered the class, and Mattson’s classroom is nearly full.
The class provides a hands-on, practical application of science that reinforces what students learn in other science classes. In one lab, for example, students spot tested over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen to learn the procedure.
So far, students have learned how to approach a crime scene, how to secure a scene to prevent contamination, what to look for and how to properly catalog evidence.
They’ve also learned the different types of evidence and how each can be used in court. To drive home the importance of proper crime scene procedure, students researched instances where “botched evidence” led to
— See CSI, Page 10 —
cases being thrown out of court.
A project about drugs gave students a chance to research five different types of drugs. They presented information like side effects, withdrawal symptoms and how the drug is produced (natural or synthetic).
Seniors Crystal Raffath and Rebecca Jacobson sat down with The Sun to share their experiences in the class.
Raffath said she decided to take the class because it was exciting, though she doesn’t intend to pursue a career in forensics in the future. She said she was amazed how much TV crime dramas get wrong.
Jacobson said she took the class partly because of interest and partly to look into a “more practical” degree she can pursue along with art and drama.
The class combines research with demonstrations, labs and other activities. For real-life examples, officers from Winnemucca Police Department visit the class. In September, they discussed eye witness accounts and types of evidence. In October, officers taught crime scene collection procedure.
For Wednesday’s lesson, Inspector Matt Morgan talked about the different kinds of drugs and how WPD collects drug evidence. He demonstrated and passed around the packets used to test for presence of certain drugs and demonstrated how to use a breathalyzer to see if someone is drunk.
“It’s a lot of fun for us to get to sit there and see what they do,” Raffath said of the WPD visits. “They always bring something for us to look at.”
Some of the tasks were more challenging than students anticipated. Raffath said she found taking clear, non-blurry fingerprints somewhat challenging. Jacobson agreed.
About the class, Raffath said, “I’m just glad we’re doing it. Because this is the first year we’ve been able to have a Forensics class. And although [Mattson’s] learning right along with us, it’s going really well.”
Raffath said the most surprising thing she learned so far was how long it took to get results of DNA tests. “It take six months to a year to get those tests back. And on TV, you just put it in this machine and there’s your answer.”
Jacobson said the most surprising thing she learned came from that days’ lesson: the only substance a person can’t overdose on is Vitamin C.
Neither of the students have looked into what the rest of the course will bring. Raffath hoped future lessons will delve into criminal psychology. Jacobson said she was in the class “to absorb as much information as possible.”