Stories tagged forensic science


New science to old question: New science is helping answer questions on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
New science to old question: New science is helping answer questions on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.Courtesy Victor Hugo King
Fifty years after the fateful day in Dallas, Texas, people are still working to find definitive answers to the details of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.

What if the current forensic investigation techniques would have been available then? That's a question the Discovery Channel recently posed in producing the show "JFK: Inside the Target Car." Here's a quick summary of things they learned through their experiments. Click here to get more details about how this all was done.

The Dallas motorcade scene was recreated with modern-day, high tech dummies situated in a car. The dummies were made of materials that have similar properties to human flesh, bone and blood. Sharpshooters then shot the surrogates from the model depository, the grassy knoll, and four other plausible locations that are part of assassination theories.

Two forensic experts, who had no knowledge that the situation was set up to recreate the shooting in Dallas, examined the evidence. Their finding was that shots came from above and behind the pathway of the car, a finding consistent with the location of the Texas Textbook Depository.

Up-to-date science was also applied in making a 3-D animated simulation of the assassination scene based on angles of possible bullet paths, information from the Zapruder home movie of the motorcade, and also wind speeds and directions. Based on blood spatters created through those simulations, the origin of the fatal shots had to be from the textbook depository.

Experts add that while modern science more accurately determine where the shots were fired from, they still cannot determine without doubt if Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter.

How do you feel about this new application of science to this dark moment of American history? Does it answer your questions on the assassination? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.

Here's a link to the Discovery Channel's website for the show.

Yup, still not Friday, but posting a few Science Friday videos that I've missed lately.

Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday

From 3/25,

"Artist Angela Strassheim began her career as a forensic photographer in a crime lab. She soon left to focus on art full-time, but she didn’t entirely leave the field behind. Her body of work, Evidence, is a documentary art project created using forensic techniques she learned on the job. The striking, sometimes disturbing images ask the question: after a tragic event, what remains?"

Archaeologists excavate mass graves in Iraq.
Archaeologists excavate mass graves in Iraq.Courtesy US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District and Regime Crimes Liaison Office
It’s the last weekend to go check out the CSI exhibit which takes visitors through the process of gathering forensic evidence and solving a case and the January issue of Archaeology magazine offers a really interesting look at how forensic techniques can be used on a large scale. It follows the role of American archaeologists in gathering evidence used in the trial of Saddam Hussein and other leaders for the 1988 mass murder of Kurdish people in Iraq.

Investigators had many documents suggesting the previous Iraqi leaders were guilty of genocide and had found what looked like mass graves. However, they looked to excavating the graves and locating the bodies in order to prove that the previous Iraqi government had targeted a civilian population of a particular ethnicity.

Mobile camp to analyze remains and artifacts
Mobile camp to analyze remains and artifactsCourtesy US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District and the Regime Crimes Liaison Office
A team of archaeologists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the desert and found 10 burial pits all oriented in the same direction. They uncovered one of the pits and photographed it. Then they removed each body with its clothes and belongings one at a time, marking each one’s position. They made a case file for each victim and analyzed each individual’s clothing, bones, and DNA samples to reconstruct what had happened.

I was shocked to read that of the 114 people they found, 84 were children. From the belongings people had with them, the team thought that the victims expected to be relocated but were instead led into a one of 10 already dug pits and shot.

The archaeological evidence was used in court along with government documents and eyewitness accounts including the testimony of a man who had survived the massacre. Hussein had been sentenced to death in another trial, but five of the other six defendants were convicted.

The team of archaeologists stayed to excavate and return the bodies to Kurdish officials, who held a reburial ceremony and plan to use some of the objects for a holocaust museum.


FingerprintCourtesy leeechy (jkjond)
Criminals need no longer waste time wiping down or washing the cartridge cases of the bullets they intend on using in a crime to get rid of their fingerprints ahead of time, you will still be caught! Researchers at the University of Leicester and the Northamptonshire police have teamed up to develop a technique to see fingerprints even if a metal surface has been wiped down. When people hold metal objects, the natural residues on their hands, like sweat, corrode metal surfaces. Their technique is particularly useful with cartridge casings, because the heat from shooting the weapon helps to imprint the fingerprints on the metal. Basically, you dust the metal of interest with a fine layer of conducting powder, and then apply an electrical charge to it. This causes the conducting powder to be attracted to the areas where the metal is corroded from fingerprints. Would be criminals would need to use abrasive cleaning techniques to remove the layer of corroded metallic surface to destroy their prints. Now don’t you go getting any ideas!

Heard about the pigcam? While the Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting the CSI exhibit this winter we are digging deeper into forensic science. We have some expert scientists who study bugs at the scene of a crime and even real murder scenes here in Minneapolis. But most people's favorite feature is the pigcam, and we have a new video for you. Curious? Check it out, but I must warn you the videos do feature some graphic decay.


Did you ever wonder what those pesky moths ate before they ate your clothes in your closet? Clothes moths were known previously to feed on dead animals. Recently, scientists also discovered that the casemaking clothes moth, one of the two most common closet menaces, can be helpful in forensic work as well!

The casemaking clothes moth, so named because it makes a fuzzy case-like home for itself as a young caterpillar, will eat human hair and can even feed on corpses. The caterpillars can eat enough hair to identify a body with DNA.

These moths can be particularly helpful if a body is moved to a new location. The caterpillar will move to a nearby spot, away from the body, to make its cocoon. Then, if the body is moved, DNA evidence from the caterpillar in the cocoon can tie the victim to the original location.

More information on this can be found at Science News.


Crime Scene: That elephant seems strangely out of place...suspicious...
Crime Scene: That elephant seems strangely out of place...suspicious...Courtesy matt coats
Imagine a crime scene that has hundreds of crime scene investigators. All of the students at Arlington High School in St. Paul, MN are working together to crack the case! As part of the school’s BioSMART program, intended to expose students sciences, engineering, business, etc., this school-wide lesson is drawing on a variety of different disciplines. Art students have become sketch artists, English language learners are questioning “persons of interest”, other students are working to determine the angles of blood spatter. I think this lesson is really a neat way to highlight how crime scene investigation draws on many different subjects and specialists. It is also a cool way to get students interested in subjects that maybe they would not have thought about before. What do you think?

Liza might have posted this somewhere already, but in case you missed it, here's a great video on the work being done at the Body Farm. Warning, it is graphic.


Marching backwards, to better times: This must be...right before the executions?
Marching backwards, to better times: This must be...right before the executions?Courtesy Hysterical Bertha
It’s easy, sometimes, to get frustrated with the modern world. Society these days is confusing and violent, and it makes me yearn for humanity’s gentle youth.

7,000 years ago, for instance, would have been a refreshing time to be alive. That would be the life: living with your tribe in lush central Europe, hunting and gathering, perhaps herding cattle, being at one with nature and your fellow humans. Now and again you might run across another group of people, and you would interact in your simple, honest way—an argument might break out, one thing leads to another, and then you and the other men and children are bound with rope and struck on the left side of the head with an axe, while the women of the tribe are taken away by your executioners.

I guess this is why they call archaeology “the dismal science.”

Wait--do I have that right?

Smithsonian Institution scientists examine the remains of a teenager from the 19th century: Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Dr. Doug Owsley, pathologist Dr. Arthur Aufterheide, pathologist Dr. Larry Cartmell, Smithsonian volunteer Marta Camps, pathologist Mary Aufterheide. Image Courtesy Ken Rahaim, Smithsonian Institution.
Smithsonian Institution scientists examine the remains of a teenager from the 19th century: Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Dr. Doug Owsley, pathologist Dr. Arthur Aufterheide, pathologist Dr. Larry Cartmell, Smithsonian volunteer Marta Camps, pathologist Mary Aufterheide. Image Courtesy Ken Rahaim, Smithsonian Institution.
The body of a 15-year old boy discovered by utility workers in Washington DC two years ago has been identified by scientists at the Smithsonian.

William Taylor White died in 1852 and was buried in Columbia College cemetery, and the coffin was probably left behind by mistake when the cemetery was moved. (Moving a cemetery would be interesting/horrifying/nightmare inducing/challenging.)

The body can now be placed in a properly marked grave.