Forensic day lets kids solve a mystery

Mason Harvick, 5, center, dips an inked strip into a cup of water to try and match a pattern found at a "crime scene" while being watched by partners Maggie Harvick, left, 7, and Haiven Swallow, 6, during the forensic science-themed family day at the Wyoming State Museum. Families had to determine who stole an important artifact from the museum and learned how to take and analyze fingerprints, measure shoe sizes and evaluate other clues to deduce who the thief was. (Photo by Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

By Isabella Alves

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — Various types of ink stains, balloons, water-dipped paper towels and sand are spread across the front room of the Wyoming State Museum.

Little aspiring detectives wander through the museum to investigate a crime scene scattered with a saw, different pieces of wood and a footprint. As they take notes on the crime scene, they report back to Supervisor of Programs and Exhibits Kevin Ramler to get their next instructions.

As they share their findings with Ramler, they’re given further guidance on how to discover which marker the suspect used to write a note that said “you will never catch me” and how to figure out which fingerprint belongs to the suspect.

This suspect, who the kids were trying to identify through the evidence, stole a silver-plated trophy from the museum.

Now, this isn’t a real crime scene, but it is a good way to introduce kids to forensic science as part of the museum’s family day that occurs on the first Saturday of each month. The event is free and has a different theme each month, Ramler said.

This month was the first time trying out the forensic science theme, and the museum saw more than 200 people cross its threshold to participate, Ramler said.

For forensic science, he said he liked the idea of doing an activity where there was a riddle that the kids had to go through step-by-step to put all the pieces together to figure out who solved the crime.

On different worksheets, the little detectives have to figure out fingerprinting, chromatography and footprint-to-height ratios.

Sitting at the row of tables at the museum, kids dipped paper towels with different types of ink on them into a cup of water. As the paper towels were dipped, kids watched the ink spread out and separate into different colors on the paper.

They had to figure out if ink patterns from the markers matched the ink pattern from the suspect’s marker to discover which type of pen the suspect used.

“We dip our fingers in ink and put it onto the balloon and we’re looking at it,” Julie Barrett, 9, said, pointing at her worksheet that shows the different types of whorls and swirls in fingerprints.

She said they have to examine the fingerprints to see which one is the suspect’s fingerprint at the crime scene. Sitting at her table, Julie was putting the fingerprints on the balloon and blowing the balloon up to further examine the prints at a bigger size.

Johnathan Moore, 7½, said he really likes the activity because he loves learning. At the end of the activity, he said he was able to figure out which suspect stole the trophy.

Missi Spier took kids Kanessa Spier, 5, Lillianna Spier, 12, and Alexas Spier, 8, to the family day because she said she’s interested in forensic science and thought the kids would find it interesting as well – which they did.

“The suspense of trying to figure out who it is, it’s really fun,” Lillianna said of the mystery. “The clue finding, that’s very fun, I like that part.”