CSI: Astoria was not about a gruesome crime scene in the woods, or somber, white-gloved detectives. No, this forensic science show was located in Sue Meiners' cheery third-grade classroom at John Jacob Astor Elementary School and starred 8- and 9-year-old investigators who were studying the methods police and law enforcement scientists use to solve crimes.
Students fingerprinted themselves, made tooth impressions in Styrofoam and investigated the properties of various white powders as part of a Mad Science Workshop Thursday.
Mad Science is a network of franchises schools hire for summer camps, in-classroom presentations and after-school programs. The group specializes in hands-on activities that let kids touch, feel and watch scientific principles at work. The Astor parents' club paid for Mad Science to give presentations in 17 first-, second-, and third-grade classrooms this week.
James Brisendin, 9, and Courtney Lawson, 8, ink their fingers and learn about fingerprinting in a Mad Science Workshop Thursday morning.
LORI ASSA-The Daily Astorian"Our goal is to get kids to notice the world around them and show kids that science can be fun," said Mad Scientist Barbara Way, who led the "detective science" segment. Other classes learned about kitchen chemistry and bugs.
Way passed out black ink pads to the kids, and showed them how to roll their thumbs in the ink, then repeat the motion on paper for a full print. Using a magnifying glass, the students could take a closer look at the circles, spirals and rings. Not even twins have the same fingerprint, Way said.
While an ink pad makes a nice print, most criminals aren't considerate enough to darken their fingers before performing a burglary, so scientists need to know how to find "latent prints."
"Dumb criminals, and ultimately most criminals are dumb, forget to wear gloves," Way said.
Way showed the students how a print on a piece of plastic cup can appear through a simple chemical reaction. She put the cup in the jar, along with a puddle of superglue, and the print slowly became visible.
Next the students bit into pieces of Styrofoam plate to make teeth impressions. Like fingerprints, a person's bite is like no one else's in the world.
"Mine's going to look weird because of this!" said Michelle Iwanylo, stretching her lips back to reveal some missing baby teeth.
Learning how to observe a criminal's face and re-create it as a sketch artist would was more of a challenge. The students stared at a drawing and then flipped it over and used transparencies of eyes, noses, mouths and hair to build the face.
"That does not look like her!" Kennedy Rub said as her group struggled to find the right features.
"I think her mouth was a little bigger," Kelsie Hoppes said.
"Her eyebrows, dude, they were like fireworks," said Sheryl Crawford as she lobbied for a different pair of lids.
Chemical testing is another part of forensic science. Way said a scientist could potentially receive a call that a body had been found in white powder, and that the substance needed to be tested to see if it was poisonous.
The students used salt, cornstarch and baking soda to exercise their own powers of observation.
By the end of the hour, Sophie Sundquist had decided being a forensic scientist would be hard, but fun.
"You get to think of lots of different stuff and experiment," she concluded.
Nick Kalar left amazed by the number of ways a person could be identified, and by science's flexibility.
"You get to do so many things," he said. "An if it fails, you have to try a different way."