2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 3:45 PM


EBY, G. Nelson, Department of Environmental, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA 01854, Nelson_Eby@uml.edu

Forensic Geology can be used as a vehicle to introduce students to geological concepts and principles using an inquiry driven approach - i.e., crime solving. We have developed such a course largely based on case studies. The course was designed for non-science majors, but biology, chemistry, and physics majors have taken the course as a technical elective. The Case of the Sandy Body is an example of the approach we use in this course.

The case starts with a body dumped in a classroom. The body is wrapped in cloth and there is abundant sand. Students first exam the crime scene and collect evidence using standard forensic techniques. The students are then provided with a narrative concerning the whereabouts of the victim in the past 24 hours and samples of sand from locations where the victim was sighted.

The students do a size analysis of the sand associated with the victim and the various possible crime scene locations. They microscopically examine the various sand samples and characterize them in terms of texture and mineralogy. In order to do this students must know something about mineral identification and at this point a standard mineral identification laboratory is done. The students also prepare heavy mineral suites using a magnetic separator and identify the minerals in each heavy mineral suite. All the information is collated and a comparison is done between the sand collected from the victim and the comparative samples. From this comparison students identify a potential crime scene.

Students are then provided with photographic evidence from the potential crime scene including a sneaker imprint. The case continues with a routine traffic stop in the area of the crime scene leading to the apprehension of a suspect who has sandy sneakers in the back of his car (its a station wagon and the sneakers are in plain view). The students are given the sneakers and asked to compare the sand adhered to the sneakers and that from the victim. Most times, but not always, a match is found. The final step is the preparation of a forensic report using standard reporting procedures.

Our experience is that the students become very engaged in solving the crime. They learn material typically covered in an introductory geology course but in a problem-solving context. Student response to the course has been very positive.