Airdate: Dec 07, 2009
Scientist: David Tate
Kids' Science Challenge: Forensics - Fingerprints
For more than a century, fingerprints have proven a useful tool in forensic science.
JM: If you watch a show like CSI, you can catch a glimpse of some of the high-tech gadgets used to solve a crime. But even with recent advances in forensic science, collecting and examining fingerprints is still essentially the same reliable method to identify a person, ever since New York's Civil Service Commission began to systematically fingerprint applicants in 1902. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. David Tate is a fingerprint examiner at the Onondaga County Center for Forensic Sciences, in Syracuse, NY.
DT: It is true that every fingerprint is unique. Even on your own hands you'll not have two fingers that display the same fingerprints. Since we have been using fingerprints to solve crimes for over 100 years, no two fingerprints have ever been shown to be the same. And just like fingerprints are unique, so too are your palm prints and even your footprints. The reason you don't hear about those as much as fingerprints is just because at a crime scene you'll find many more fingerprints than you will footprints. People don't often run around crime scenes barefoot, but they do touch things with their hands all the time.
JM: When an investigator removes or lifts a so-called latent print from a crime scene, that print is sent to a lab like David's for analysis.
DT: The way a case starts out is I get the evidence out, and I'll do a visual examination of it to see if I can, with my eye, just see any fingerprints that might be on it. If I do get a fingerprint, I'll photograph it to preserve it, and then I'll do a comparison if I have a suspect's fingerprint card to compare it to.
JM: David Tate is a participant in this year's Kids' Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Want to know who keeps digging in to your bag of potato chips? Log on to kidsciencechallenge.com and find out how to lift and ID fingerprints with nothing more than cocoa powder and packing tape! That's kidsciencechallenge.com. I'm Jim Metzner.