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: We’re either going to help a victim of a crime or we’re going to be able to help the police so they get the right person in jail so that person doesn’t commit another crime. In a very short time we’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 suspect’s hair match a strand found at the scene? Are the words in a threatening letter consistent with a suspect’s handwriting? I’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 you’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. You’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 we’re able to get a good result or get a result, it’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 we’ll compare evidence to a person and we’ll see that it matches, but often times we’ll compare the evidence and see that it doesn’t match. And that’s actually very important, because if something doesn’t match, we’re able to tell the police, you’re looking at the wrong person. So the person that they think committed the crime probably didn’t, and that’s important because the last thing anybody wants is for a person to get in trouble for something that they didn’t do.
JM: Kathleen Corrado 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. Go to kidsciencechallenge.com. I’m Jim Metzner.