Learning the ins and outs of fighting crime

CSI- Learning the ins and outs of fighting crime

Science in action - learning about biotechnology at UNI's CSI Summer Camp.

Crime scene investigation shows like "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: Las Vegas" are all the rage on TV. There’s something about watching police officers solve cases using fingerprints, DNA and other physical evidence that appeals to people of all ages – especially kids.  

"The CSI franchise has done wonders for the area of forensics, so we wanted to talk about the science behind crime scene analysis," said Kavita Dhanwada, associate dean in the College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences who led a weeklong forensics camp at UNI in June.

CSI: Cedar Falls – Crime Fighting with Biotechnology drew area junior high and high school students to McCollum Science Hall where they used equipment and techniques they see on TV to find out "whodunit." 

"We have a lot of students who don't have an opportunity to work with some of the modern instrumentation that’s used in biotechnology," said Dhanwada. "Since UNI's biology department has the capability and the equipment to do so, we thought it would be a great experience for the students to learn about this topic."

The CSI: Cedar Falls summer camp was started in 2010 to show that science can be fun and is accessible to everyone. "Many students are fascinated by science when they start school, but we’ve found…they seem to lose interest in math and science, especially in high school. We wanted to do something that kids can relate to."

During their time together, students conducted experiments similar to those that crime scene investigators would actually perform on the job. "They isolated DNA from their own cheek cells and 'cut' DNA into fragments," said Dhanwada. Students also visited the Division of Criminal Investigation’s DNA lab in Ankeny and learned how investigators process evidence sent from police departments across Iowa.

Sgt. Kerry Divine, a police officer who works in the CSI division of the Waterloo Police Department, also talked with the young crime-fighters about her job and the procedures used to collect evidence. Students even learned how police officers lift fingerprints from various pieces of evidence. 

"During our time together, students see that science can be really fun and interesting and that it’s relevant to what they see around them," said Dhanwada. "Kids really do have the talent and interest to do science. By letting them do experiments on their own and use equipment they see on TV, it hopefully stirs an interest in them that’s maintained as they go through school."