Make a Good Impression with Forensics!


This fingerprint welcomes students in Ms. Ferraro’s Forensic Science class! Credit: Ms. Ferraro

By Kavitha Brunner

@lemonjaded on Twitter

Did you know that the brand of shoe that you wear has a unique ability to link you to a crime? If you’re a student in Mrs. Ferraro’s forensic science class, then this comes as no surprise to you. On October 7th, forensics students took to the outdoor classroom for their 4A class, where they were able to mimic the work of a real forensic field scientist by creating and analyzing shoe cast impressions.

Move past the rows of benches that comprise the outdoor classroom and you’ll be able to see two large sandboxes, parallel in orientation. Having built these boxes especially for this experiment, Mrs. Ferraro excitedly aided students in creating bags of plaster with impeccable consistency and with creating perfect impressions in the sand.

I was lucky enough to be able to take part in this lab firsthand and create my own shoe impression, despite the fact that I’m not currently a pupil learning how to process a crime scene. Beginning on a flattened out and slightly moistened patch of sand, I pressed my boot sole down and sprayed the resulting impression with hairspray. I then took the bag of extremely squishy and homemade plaster, squeezed it into all the crevices of the print, and waited for the concoction to harden so I could lift the cast from the impression.  Ta-dah, processing my very own crime scene!

How likely is it, though, that a criminal would actually leave a perfectly perforated print at the scene of the crime? That no erosion or weather would impede the presence in the impression of all the ridges of the sole? If you ask Mrs. Ferraro, she’d tell you that indeed, the likelihood of such an ideal situation is low: “In the sandboxes, we have an ideal situation, but it won’t always be that convenient in the field.”

The aim of the experiment was to familiarize students with the process of shoe casting when analyzing evidence. Even though its unlikely that it would be so easy in a real life criminal situation, students here were able to identify the significance of each step of casting.

“It’s a myth that a person’s shoe size reveals their height,” Nealon Miller, a senior in the class, tells me. “The importance of this process lies instead within the analysis of different aspects of the shoe itself: the print, if specific enough, can be traced back to brands of shoe. If you measure the distance between each print, this can give you a hint towards the person’s stride length, which is what actually allows scientists to estimate heights for suspects.”

Learning how to process a crime scene is only one unit of forensic science with Mrs. Ferraro. This class is full of experiments and labs and learning how they apply to real life. Anyone can sign up to take the class, which Mrs. Ferraro herself dubs as perhaps the most hands-on at Hammond: “We do toxicology labs, bone labs, autopsies, fetal pig dissections, blood spatter and typing, DNA fingerprinting, and extraction of DNA from strawberries…” Take this class if you want to simultaneously have fun and learn about real-world situations!


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