Surprising facts about the real-life science of crime scene investigations
By Matt RansfordPosted 03.27.2009 at 10:50 am 1 Comment
The legal profession has a term for the way juries regard forensic science--they call it the "CSI Effect." Juries expect to see nothing less than DNA matching for even the most minor infractions. If the forensic evidence isn't overwhelming, they will acquit, even in the face of reasonable doubt. Without question, the CSI and Law and Order franchises have reshaped the popular imagination by elevating science as the ultimate arbiter of truth. That, in and of itself, is good for science. What's dangerous about the proposition, however, are the standards and lengths to which the television shows hold the science they portray.
While it's undoubtedly important for people to know what's fact and what's fiction in crime scene investigation, here's a look into just what the present day facts of forensics science entail (we'll leave the fiction to the experts… in TV production, that is). In 2005, Congress tasked the National Academy of Sciences to survey the landscape of forensic science. The result, this past February, was a 255-page report. Here are a few of the surprising facts they found.
Arsenic levels vary widely, but they are dangerously high in much of the country.
By Trevor ThiemePosted 01.18.2002 at 8:03 pm 1 Comment
Arsenic is one of history's most infamous poisons. The Roman Emperor Nero used it to murder his rival to the throne, and some theorists hold that the deposed Napoleon Bonaparte was betrayed with a dose from trusted deputies. Yet, many Americans unwittingly drink toxic quantities of the stuff right from their taps.
Chemical Engineering: A high-tech snout sniffs out toxic trouble.
By Trevor ThiemePosted 01.18.2002 at 7:54 pm 0 Comments
You can't wear a gas chromatograph," says Nicholas Abbott, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's referring to a 50-pound device used to check air for chemical poisons. These days, when terrorism is a concern to all, there's considerable demand for a chemical sensor no larger than a badge.
Automotive construction: Soybeans are on the ingredient list for tractors. Are cars next?
By Harald FranzenPosted 01.18.2002 at 7:39 pm 0 Comments
If you think soy is good for nothing but tofu burgers, think again. The Princeton, Illinois-based Urethane Soy Systems Company (USSC) is determined to use soy in everything from cars to carpets, all through the magic of polyurethane.
The newly-discovered dwarf gecko measures three-fourths of an inch.
By Dawn StoverPosted 01.18.2002 at 7:21 pm 1 Comment
There are 23,000 species of reptiles, birds, and mammals in the world and newly-discovered Sphaerodactylus ariasae is the smallest of all. The Jaragua Sphaero, or dwarf gecko, measures three-fourths of an inch from nose to tail tip and weighs just 0.00455 of an ounce (by contrast, the largest animal, the blue whale, is 1,600 times longer and more than 1 billion times heavier). The lizard lives on the island of Beata in the Dominican Republic where, according to its discoverers, biologists Blair Hedges and Richard Thomas, its habitat is threatened by logging.
Aviation Design: A new idea for taking on the jets.
By Harald FranzenPosted 01.18.2002 at 7:16 pm 2 Comments
The corporate jet has long been the ultimate status symbol, but Renaissance Research is out to challenge jet-powered primacy. The California-based company is bent on designing the fastest propeller plane in history and, ultimately, on producing an alternative to today's midsize jets.
By Etienne BensonPosted 12.10.2001 at 4:33 pm 1 Comment
Remember the Erector Set, those interlocking nuts, bolts, and metal strips that kids used to build things with? Well, the Nobel-prize-winning chemist Sir Harry Kroto does. "One of the disasters of modern life," he recently told startled listeners on BBC radio, is that it has been "displaced by Lego."
Will oncoming drivers see DaimlerChrysler's new headlight system?
By Dan McCoshPosted 12.06.2001 at 6:39 pm 1 Comment
The most unusual aspect of a new headlight system being developed at DaimlerChrysler: Oncoming drivers can't see them. Well, sort of.
The system, recently demonstrated on a Jeep Grand Cherokee, combines conventional headlamps with invisible infrared lights. The result is a dramatically clearer picture of the road ahead.
It works like this: Two laser headlamps on the front of the vehicle illuminate the road with infrared light, then a digital camera records the reflected image. The image is projected in black and white to an LCD screen behind the instrument cluster.
"Transparency" attempts to make new technology do its thing without anyone noticing.
By Dan McCoshPosted 12.06.2001 at 5:58 pm 0 Comments
Super-efficient light-truck engines are coming, but don't expect to notice.
That's the impression we came away with after driving General Motors' latest light truck concepts. The reason: something engineers call transparency, an effort to make new technology do its thing without anyone noticing.