Students in the FIVS 289 Special Topics course this fall learned how to look at things from a new perspective: under a microscope.
During the course, students to learn how to identify fibers from clothing, animal or human hair, or other minute particles that aren’t easily seen by the naked eye.
Instructor and Senior Lecturer Scott Kovar said the idea for the course came after he said that microscopy can be used by all areas in forensics such as trace evidence, forensic entomology, and FDA product tampering investigations.
During the lecture and lab, students learned several concepts including the differences between a stereo microscope and a compound microscope and how trace evidence is viewed in each type. Students also had the chance to work with a polarizing light microscope to identify and measure different material that may be found at crime scenes.
Some of the activities during the lab included calibrating microscopes, looking at and measuring the types of fibers and other trace materials with a polarizing light microscope. Kovar said that they also learned to match the appropriate microscopical methods and contrast techniques for comparing trace evidence types.
Kovar also said microscopy is a very important skill for forensic examiners to learn.
“I believe any forensic examiner that you interview would agree that almost every piece of evidence that comes into the crime laboratory should (at a minimum), first be examined by stereomicroscopy to identify and document the condition of any trace materials, contaminants, and mixtures, within or adhering to that evidentiary sample,” Kovar said. “No matter what area of forensic science our students are interested in, they should be proficient in forensic microscopy.”
Sophomore Forensic and Investigative Sciences major Abigail Drago loved the class and said the lab was very helpful in learning the skills.
“I love Professor Kovar’s class and think it has really helped me learn the workings of a microscope for forensic use,” junior Forensics major Abigail Drago said. “The lab was hands on and extremely useful in seeing techniques that professionals use on a daily basis. It gave me an insight on what each specialty in forensic analysis does such as fiber analysis, trace evidence analysis, and micrometry.”
Drago said her favorite part of the lab was learning how to determine synthetic fibers from natural fibers. “The most interesting thing I learned form the lab was examining synthetic and natural fibers,” Drago said. “Each fiber is distinct and has different optic properties. Professor Kovar taught us to look at retardation colors, birefringence, and the indicatrix of each material to narrow down what it could be. Being able to successfully identify something by those properties was incredible.”