Airdate: Jan 18, 2010
Scientist: Mo Lupia
Kids' Science Challenge: Forensics - Gathering Evidence
Declaring someone dead is one thing, but if you want a definitive cause, you'll want to give forensic investigator Mo Lupia a call.
ML: We find a person lying on the floor, and there's a bullet in that person. Well, you really don't have to be a rocket scientist to establish what caused that person's death.
JM: For a forensic investigator like Mo Lupia, determining the cause of someone's death could be a no-brainer. But the manner of death can present more of a mystery. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Mo Lupia works at the Wallie Howard Jr. Center for Forensic Science, in Syracuse, NY, and he uses a number of techniques to reconstruct the scene of a crime.
ML: If the weapon is no longer at the scene, this is very likely a homicide. And it's not necessarily always the case. Sometimes family members will come in, actually remove the weapon, and that can be puzzling at times. We also look for suicide notes, but unfortunately, only 20 percent of the people that take their own life leave a note. We talk to people that knew the person. And we look at medical records. We look at psychiatric records, legal records, previous arrests. We also look at the physical evidence. Where there's a discharge of a weapon and a person has been shot, or even in the case where a person has been killed with a knife or a blunt instrument, we bag the person's hands to try and collect any trace evidence: gunshot residue, fiber evidence, if the person's been in a struggle with another person, there might be biological material under the fingernails that can help us identify who the person was in a struggle with prior to their death.
JM: A forensic investigator's work isn't all gruesome. In fact, you can watch Mo Lupia in action applying forensic techniques to the case of a stolen brownie recipe, at kidsciencechallenge.com. Mo is one of the participants in this year's Kids' Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Think up a mystery and go to kidsciencechallenge.com.