Student sleuths tackle forensic science mystery

Published: May. 11, 2023 at 4:33 PM EDT|Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 7:12 PM EDT
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NORWICH, Vt. (WCAX) - Around 100 elementary school CSI sleuths from our region spread out Thursday at Norwich’s Montshire Museum of Science to investigate a jewel heist. While the crime was fiction, it was a real lesson in forensic science.

“DNA analysis, fingerprints, shoe prints -- all that kind of stuff -- blood spatter,” said Roger Sloboda, a research professor at Dartmouth College, who secured a Science Education Partnership Award a few years back. “The idea of the grant is to bring science education pedagogy to under-resourced, over-worked school systems in rural Vermont and New Hampshire.”

The jewel heist is the third iteration of SEPA grant programming created in collaboration with the museum and teachers from participating school districts. Kids learned about forensic analysis at school as part of their curriculum and now, are putting it to the test.

“It’s one thing to learn about it in a classroom, but now they’re being asked to take that activity, assemble those ideas, look at new data they haven’t seen before, and come to some conclusion -- which is what scientists do. They gather data and they come to conclusions,” Sloboda said.

A series of stations give the students a chance to look at new data points to help solve the crime and pick from a list of suspects. One of the suspects in question is Dartmouth grad student Dominic Carrese. He’s pursuing a career in education, making this project mutually beneficial. “In general, I think it’s just really good outreach from Dartmouth, which tends to be an insular place to the community. It’s really great to have the students around and be able to talk with them about some of the cool chemistry that’s going on,” Carrese said.

Students we spoke to from Plainfield Elementary had come to a nearly certain conclusion. “We went to blood typing first. She got that, it’s very obvious,” said Gardell Wetherington.

“We’ve gone to blood typing, fingerprinting, ink analysis, and shoe print, and for all four of them, we’ve gotten Sandy Stone,” added Caelan Boynton.

“Dark spot right here, and there are the ridges deriving from the dark spot, also corresponding to this one,” explained Michael Demidov.

And while the situation isn’t looking good for prime suspect Sandy Stone, the analytical exercise was great for the students. “I like science, so it’s just fun to do a mystery crime thing,” said Talon Lord.

Next year is the final part of the multi-year SEPA grant. Sloboda says they hope to take what they’ve learned over the past 3 years and figure out how to duplicate it for a wider audience.