The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Forensic Science: Crime Scene Investigation

Date: July 19 - August 1, 2020

Program length: 2 weeks

Much of our knowledge of forensic science comes from popular TV shows like Criminal Minds, CSI, Dexter, Sherlock, and Bones. But is a single drop of blood or strand of hair really a smoking gun – enough to secure a criminal conviction?

In this hands-on course, students will learn about the different types of evidence found in crime scenes; procedures for gathering and evaluating evidence; using evidence to reconstruct the events leading up to a crime; and the role of evidence in trial. Students will also learn how advances in science and technology shape our notion of what counts as evidence, and using what they learn, critically evaluate pop-cultural representations of crime scene investigations.

Class activities will include, but are not limited to: using bi-chromatic powder to lift latent fingerprints and analyze their ridge characteristics; using fake blood and prop weapons to create different types of blood spatter, in order to learn what blood stains tell investigators about the angle, velocity, and origin of impact; solving carefully prepared “cold case” files; and staging and performing a mock crime scene investigation. The course may also include guest lectures by experts in the field and a visit to the local police department.

Ultimately, this course will hone students’ ability to think critically and complexly, and assemble relevant pieces of information to make carefully reasoned arguments – skills that are transferable to many contexts outside of forensic science. Because forensics brings together many scientific fields (biology, chemistry, physics, anthropology, psychology, just to name a few), at least a passing interest in the sciences is expected. A background in the sciences is not required, however, and it is hoped that this course will stir excitement by showing science in action.

For this class, students will only need a notebook, writing implements, and a few old t-shirts they won’t mind getting dirty on blood spatter day.


Mike Alvarez

Lecturer, Department of Communication