Airdate: Dec 22, 2009
Scientist: Kathleen Corrado
Kids' Science Challenge: Forensics - Making a Match
While matching evidence to a suspect can be gratifying, proving a mismatch is equally important.
KC: Weâ€™re either going to help a victim of a crime or weâ€™re going to be able to help the police so they get the right person in jail so that person doesnâ€™t commit another crime. In a very short time weâ€™re able to see our results, and apply it so that we can help someone.
JM: When crime-scene evidence is collected, forensic scientists use methods to compare known and unknown materials. Does a suspectâ€™s hair match a strand found at the scene? Are the words in a threatening letter consistent with a suspectâ€™s handwriting? Iâ€™m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Kathleen Corrado is Director of Laboratories for the Onondaga County Center for Forensic Sciences, in Syracuse, New York.
KC: I used to do DNA research and I really enjoyed that, but the difference with research and perhaps what we do here is in research you spend a really long amount of time trying to discover something or trying to come up with a cure for something, so you spend years and years before you actually get to the part where you actually feel like youâ€™ve solved something. Whereas in forensic sciences, you can go into the lab on any given day and do an experiment and either within the day or within a few days you have an answer. Youâ€™re able to solve that mystery. And I find that really appealing, because I can spend a short amount of time and actually see the usefulness of my work, and in fact, if weâ€™re able to get a good result or get a result, itâ€™s going to be helpful to someone.
JM: While matching evidence to a known sample would be considered a success, a mismatch can be just as valuable.
KC: Sometimes weâ€™ll compare evidence to a person and weâ€™ll see that it matches, but often times weâ€™ll compare the evidence and see that it doesnâ€™t match. And thatâ€™s actually very important, because if something doesnâ€™t match, weâ€™re able to tell the police, youâ€™re looking at the wrong person. So the person that they think committed the crime probably didnâ€™t, and thatâ€™s important because the last thing anybody wants is for a person to get in trouble for something that they didnâ€™t do.
JM: Kathleen Corrado is a participant in this yearâ€™s Kidsâ€™ Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Go to kidsciencechallenge.com. Iâ€™m Jim Metzner.