Many of us watch them, those TV shows featuring forensic science that portray the leaps and bounds made in technology in our lifetime.
“CSI,” “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds,” “Dexter,” “Forensic Files,” “Extreme Forensics” – they all feature technology unimaginable a decade ago.
Gas chromatography, microspectrophotometry, scanning electron microscopes, DNA analysis, and polymerase chain reaction are all terms we hear bandied about in TV crime labs as tests are performed.
If we need any more evidence that time stands still for no one, it’s marching on this year at Warren County Senior High where students are studying forensic science in two honors classes taught by Judy Thomas.
Part of the health-science curriculum, the classes are so popular there is a possibility they could be offered as regular classes in the future, according to Thomas.
The honors course utilizes the textbook “Forensic Science: An Introduction,” adapted by Richard Saferstein, PhD, from his classic criminalistics text and designed specifically for high school study. Additionally, students enjoy hands-on lab work and many other pluses Thomas adds to the curriculum.
One of those extra, interesting activities included a lecture by renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass, founder of the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Research Center, better known as “The Body Farm,” thanks to a TBI agent and author Patricia Cornwell.
Forensic science students also participate (via satellite and computer) in an autopsy. This year, the autopsy, performed at St. Louis Hospital, was on an older, indigent male (John Doe) whose cause of death was determined to be strangulation, as evidenced by bruising on his neck.
The course appeals to students across the spectrum, including Adam Fann, who said he finds the puzzle-solving aspect of forensics intriguing.
“The autopsy was interesting. I didn’t know bodies looked like that,” said Fann, who added his favorite activity this year was the Dr. Bass lecture.
Planning to pursue forensic science in college, Fann will likely be joined by his friend, Michael Gallagher, who also likes the criminal investigation aspect of forensic science. Gallagher plans to attend MTSU, where he hopes to study both anthropology and forensic science.
“Dr. Bass was really interesting. His lecture just confirmed my interests and made me more excited about its possibilities,” said Gallagher.
WCHS student Devin Tucker, who has already decided he will become a registered nurse, finds the lab work most interesting.
“But I think maybe I’ll take more forensic classes too,” he added.
Senior Caleb Underhill said his favorite thing about the class is the case studies of murders and serial killers presented in the textbook.
“I like that there are so many different ways to figure out a case,” said Underhill. “Looking at the crime scene, how it has to be processed to preserve and gather evidence and figure out what happened. It’s possible I’ll do something with this.”
The class also goes through a newspaper each Monday to find something concerning forensics for discussion. Other forensic science students interested in continuing study in the field include Tyler Glenn, Tessa Thomas and James Nelson.
The class syllabus describes the course as an introduction to the health care systems with topics covered to include personal and patient safety, health careers, medical terminology, medical abbreviation, review of anatomy and physiology, DNA, RNA and forensic procedures.
“There will be an emphasis on fingerprinting and crime scene investigation, as well as professional behavior and legal and ethical issues,” Thomas noted in her syllabus.
A former medical lab technician and X-ray technician, Thomas began teaching health science classes at the high school three years ago. In addition to the two forensic science honors classes, she also teaches two classes in biomedical technology and one class in health science.
“I just love teaching, especially forensic science. If he’s feeling like it, it’s possible we can get Dr. Bass back for another lecture next year,” Thomas noted.
But for her, teaching is really all about the students.
“I just love the kids. Sometimes they just get so excited about learning and that’s when you know it’s all worthwhile,” she added.