Compound Microscopes

Educator Name: Kathy Mirakovits
School Name: Portage Northern High School

I teach forensic science at Portage Northern. The program began as a one semester course and has expanded (due to student and parent request) to a second semester, giving us two courses, Forensic Science 1 and Forensic Science 2. The courses have captured student interest and currently we run six classes, three first semester and three second semester. (I am even doing a full year Independent Study in Forensic Science for a senior student who completed FS 1 and FS 2 last year as a junior and would like to continue his studies.) In this course we need to be able to do microscope work in areas like fingerprint identification, hair and fiber identification, firearms and ballistics studies and forensic entomology. There are no microscopes dedicated for use in Forensic Science. Any microscopes that can be used are borrowed from the biology classes. With the new state curriculum mandating that all students take and pass a full year of biology, the enrollment in biology has exploded. There are not enough microscopes for all those classes wanting to use them to enhance learning. I would appreciate funding for a 4 compound microscopes and 3 stereo microscopes so that more students and subject area are able to use them, both in biology and in forensic science.

Compound microscopes in forensic science can be used to see the structure of hair to identify and compare to "crime scene" evidence. The visual comparison and identification techniques can also be used in bullet and cartridge case comparisons. Additionally, glass pieces are examined for conchoidal lines used to determine the direction of force on the broken glass, important in determining what actions occurred at the crime scene. In forensic entomology, students must examine maggot specimens under a stereo microscope to determine the stage of its life cycle, and therefore assist in determining postmortem interval, or approximate time of death. Without access to microscopes these important lab procedures could not be practiced and then put to use mock crime scenes--the assessments for this course.

Both the biology and forensic science students will benefit. Forensic science students by being able to learn how to use this important tool of science and also to use it in a unique, real world situation--solving problems, in this case finding out what happened in a given situation. The topics in forensic science that need this tool are basic and necessary to the course. Biology students will benefit by not having to share as many microscopes with forensic science, therefore allowing more students access to the equipment and more efficiently using class time (not having to wait your turn for the microscopes).

Laboratory skills and experimental analysis are tested via mock crime scenes in this course. Students are taught the lab testing procedures for each type of evidence and then are given a small crime scene where three or more topics taught are integrated into the scenario. Students employ critical thinking, problem solving and laboratory expertise to process evidence from the scene. The results of their crime scene investigation and conclusions (based on the evidence) are a measure of their skills.