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CSI Xavier-Style

By France Griggs Sloat

All summer long, assistant physics professor Heidrun Schmitzer suffered past the bloody limbs and battered bodies of the CSI television series to learn what students are watching. She hates the show, but it helps her know what to include in a new interdisciplinary course she developed called Forensic Science Studies 110.

“I hope to get through to them that science applies to all forensic stuff, which is itself science, so they must be thorough and diligent and careful,” Schmitzer says.

The idea is to offer a core science course for non-science majors, as well as criminal justice majors, that’s so interesting a few may actually switch to science. A $2,400 Wheeler grant covered the costs of two summer student interns who tested each lab experiment for the new manual, including fingerprint identification, blood spatter analysis and how to compare DNA samples.

Students this fall are learning how to scientifically treat evidence collected at crime scenes for information about the crime and the perpetrator. They’re comparing groove marks on a spent bullet to determine which gun fired it, analyzing glass shards from a window to learn if it broke from inside or outside, and identifying substances as illegal drugs.

The course proved so popular that it filled up to its maximum of 18 students last spring. If interest remains high, Schmitzer hopes to offer it again next spring and to double the number of labs available.

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