Dripping Red Line
Forensic Science Web Quest

A crime has been committed and you are part of the forensics team that is called in to aid in its investigation. Your forensics Web Quest Team can have between two and four members. Four pieces of evidence collected at the crime scene must be analyzed, and tests to determine the identity of your substance must be suggested. You and your team will report back to your superiors with your findings, and the quality of the suggested procedures will determine advancement and salary bonuses (always a good thing!). Be thorough and above all open-minded. There's no telling what you may find with the simplest of tests!


The TaskYour Web Quest Team can have between two and four members. The Team must suggest a possible analysis for four clues from the Evidence Room (see below) and report how these techniques cant confirm (or deny) the identities of the substances in the clues. Some of the more likely tests that you might consider for the evidence include atomic emission spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA electrophoresis, electrochemistry and others. Remember the motto "Innocent until proven guilty" - your work will help determine the fate of the suspects.

DNA PCR analysisThe forensics report which your team will submit to your superiors should include an explanation of each test necessary to identify the identity of the crime scene evidence. You should explain:


Here's the planEach Team member must choose a piece of evidence to analyze. The substances in the evidence may be residues of unknown origin, and may include narcotics, body fluids, inorganic materials, accelerants, household materials, etc.

To begin the Web Quest, you might wish to proceed as follows:

Perform background research concerning each of the tests in the list given above. You may find during your research that additional tests may be suggested to aid in your work. These should not be ignored. Each team member should then report back to the group his or her findings so that it can be decided which tests should be considered. Since you will receive only a specific amount of your substance, be sure to consider the minimum amount of your sample that would be necessary to perform the test. You don't want to run out of sample before you've identified what you have!
Comb the net to find diagrams and descriptions of each test that needs to be performed as well as pictures of the equipment and explanations of any solutions or materials used to prepare the sample for study. These materials should be included as part of your formal forensic report.
Each team member should write their own analysis section for their piece of evidence selected. The team should reconvene and discuss the findings by each person. The team should write the remainder of the forensic paper together; this includes an abstract, an introductory statement, a joint conclusion statement, and a list of references. In this Web Quest it is essential that the introductory statement and the joint conclusion statement be written for non-scientists - your superiors may not have the formal scientific training that you possess!


Click here to enter the
Evidence Room
Remember that each Team must select four pieces of evidence to analyze


ResourcesUse the following internet resources to help you in your search for the identity of the substance you receive. Be sure to keep a log of all sites you visit so that this information can be recorded as part of your list of references page for your forensics report. Team members should keep each other informed of new sites found via research.
About.com is a nifty alternative to the typical search engine since it uses actual people who specialize in your area of interest to comb the internet in search of interesting and useful stuff on your topic. This has the added bonus of your specialist cutting out all of the useless stuff for you. Just type in a one or two word description of your topic and away you go!
Analytical Chemistry: this tutorial, via lecture notes of Professor James K. Hardy, University of Akron, provides an excellent starting place for you to learn about the various aspects of analytical chemistry, data analysis and instrumentation.
Analytical Chemistry Springboard: this is a comprehensive list of sites for analytical chemistry on the internet.
Ask Jeeves is a metasearch engine which will check several different search engines for you at once, saving you time and aggravation. It also has the added bonus of allowing you to write your requests in simple language without all the tedious plus signs and quotation marks some search engines require.
Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Evidence: case studies in the use of DNA evidence to establish innocence after trial.
Crime Scene Investigator's Site: the site contains information on photography, evidence collection, and training as well as articles on a wide range of topics.
DNA Fingerprinting: a great reference for identifying culprits based on the analysis of their DNA.
Online Forensic Science Resources: this is an amazing site which provides info and links to a variety of forensic techniques
DNA Testing: for the non-scientist. A few big words, not really scary concepts. Dictionaries are good things when reading any new material!
Science of Crime: from the Why Files. Basic information about the collection of evidence and how it can be used to solve a case.
Scientific Testimony: an online journal for the forensic scientist. Be sure to check out the archived materials as well as some of the tutorial information on basic forensics.


EvaluationEach Web Quest Team member can receive a maximum of 5 extra credit points for completing this Web Quest. Three points shall address the perspective statement created by each individual Team member, and two points shall address the group work used to complete the paper.

Grading shall be based on neatness, spelling errors, accuracy of information gathered, quality of list of references, and similar criteria. In addition, each participant shall anonymously complete an evaluation form for each Team member which will affect the final grade. For more information, contact the instructor.


ConclusionWhen you are finished with this web quest, I hope you will have an appreciation for the type of work that goes into this important facet of the legal justice system. The USA was founded on the idea that individuals are innocent until proven guilty, and the forensic techniques discussed in this Web Quest help to prove a suspect's innocence or guilt. Many different analysis tools are used extensively in forensics science, and students interested in biology, genetics, chemistry, computers, programming, anthropology, law enforcement and other areas should consider a career in this field. Forensics investigations are rewarding to the Sherlock Holmes (or "armchair cop") in all of us.


WebQuest originally developed by Linda Stefaniak at Allentown High School in Allentown, New Jersey, USA and adopted as appropriate by Michael Russell at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon, USA