In the weeks between this blog post (#6) and blog post #5, I’ve had the marvelous opportunity to go into a lab with Caitlin! We went into the lab and spent a few hours with the students there. The first thing we did was go to the greenhouse and look at fly traps. Unfortunately, there weren’t many flies in the traps at the moment, but we learned that it was possibly due to the environment and the altitude. We then returned to the lab and got a chance to look at the rearing lab, where they breed the flies. We got to touch a frozen cockroach, watch little maggots squirm across our (gloved) hands, and stick our hands into a cage swarming with flies! Afterwards, we got the privilege of learning how to identify blow flies and got to use a (really amazing) microscope to attempt the identifying process step by step. I tried to attach photos of the flies that we identified, but the files were too large. (Click this link to see the flies. The flies may be a bit blurry, my apologies.)

The things that amazed Caitlin and I the most were not the flies, but the lab itself. The security, to be precise. Card scanners, locks, keypads, bullet proof windows… Retinal scanners and vein scanners?? Really amazing. Before my visit to the lab, I had no idea that vein scanners existed. These vein scanners find your veins, which are unique to every person, and reads the pulse as well! So if you’re dead, the vein scanner will not accept you. If you’re panicked (maybe you’re being threatened) the vein scanner will read the odd pulse and will not accept you. It’s an incredibly secure method of security!

 

Concepts: One concept that I learned, is that while giving time of death (using forensic entomology), you do not give a maximum estimation. The reason for this is that there are so many different factors that could have been different when compared to the calculations, that the estimate could be earlier than the actual time of death. Another concept that was introduced today was during the identification of blow flies. There was a guidebook we used and while identifying, there were underlined traits and traits that were not underlined. The student we were with emphasized the importance of those underlined traits while identifying the blow flies. It was explained to us that traits that were not underlined are not the main differences between the flies. Without heeding the underlined traits, there would be a high chance of us misidentifying the type of fly. Making sure to identify the correct fly is important, because there are so many different species and sub families of flies! One misidentification could lead to a severely incorrect result.

Alternatives: During Caitlin and I’s visit to the lab, we talked a lot about alternatives. After viewing the fly traps, we (Caitlin, the student, and I) discussed some different ways that the trap could have been built. The student had taken the professor’s trap (a tin and plastic bag) and used an alternative (soda bottles). We discussed ways we could alter the alternative of those soda bottle traps. Some things that were discussed were adding a door/different entrance for ease of changing the beef liver inside that would attract the flies. Another alternative introduced to us was for the use of fingerprinting. With fingerprinting, forensic scientists use a specific set of powders. However, as ordinary students, Caitlin and I don’t have access to those powders. An alternative that was introduced was baby powder and it was suggested we try similar textured powders as well. One interesting alternative that my mentor introduced was the use of pig bodies. In order to observe the development of maggots and flies in the environment, the bodies of pigs were used. This isn’t an alternative I am able to use as someone still in secondary school, but it’s an interesting and resourceful alternative!

Since our In Depth is forensic science, which is a specialized field, I think that even if our mentors had changed, the alternatives given to us would not have changed. The reason for my opinion is that I as a student am not changing. Since forensic science is a highly specialized area, finding alternatives that a person in secondary school can use is probably very limited. On the other hand, if Caitlin and I were university students with the same mentor, I feel that we would have a larger inventory of alternatives, because there would be different resources available to us. For example, we would have access to labs, specialized equipment, and might have had an opportunity for more field experience to test and experiment with different alternatives as well.

For Caitlin and I’s final In Depth, we are planning on doing a step by step presentation. In the first ‘stage’, we hope to have a mock body/crime scene. We plan on displaying this crime scene so people understand the nature of collecting evidence and what happens to a body upon expiry. In the second ‘stage’, we hope to showcase the nature of analyzing evidence through things like fingerprinting (we plan on letting people take their own fingerprints home), blow fly analysis, and analyzing blood splatters. In the third ‘stage’, we hope to show the process of amalgamating the evidence and testifying (because as forensic scientists, we cannot let our own opinions cloud the results!). In our fourth ‘stage’ we plan on having a poster board showcasing the myths that often surround forensic science and examples of some miscarriages of justice. The best part of our station (we hope) is that people do not have to go through the entire process. They can drop by and visit the section they are interested in the most. Myths? ‘Stage’ 4. Fingerprinting? ‘Stage’ 2. Our plan may change if there are difficulties with presenting all 4 stages at once, but this is our main idea!

There’s so much that I’ve learned throughout In Depth this year and while I’m sad that I can’t present it all, I look forward to sharing what I know!