To celebrate the launch of the excellent crime drama Castle – starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic – on GREAT! tv in the UK, I had a rather brilliant virtual afternoon with the super-smart Think Forensic, who helped a group of us explore the real science of solving crime!
With Season 1 of Castle airing on GREAT! tv, and the channel will be screening all 8 seasons, now is the perfect time to get addicted to this highly enjoyable show that delivers a wide range of intrigue, comedy, romance and suspense – all in one! Starring Fillion as mystery writer Richard Castle, he’s initially questioned by the NYPD after a copy-cat killer carries out murders that are inspired by his books but after meeting with Katic’s Detective Kate Beckett, and eventually solving the initial crime, it’s clear they’re a good team and go on to work outside of the box to solve some unresolved homicides in New York.
To get us in the right frame of mind for the show, Think Forensic, led by forensic scientist Leisa Nichols-Drew (who worked on Soham and Ipswich murders) and former police detective Sue Procter, gave us a lesson in the history of forensics, and then to really get into the depths of the processes, we had the opportunity to try it all out first-hand, by literally analysing our own fingerprints, making a foot mould from a crime-scene (of our own making), plus a fantastic insight into how they examine blood at crime scenes, and how technology (old and new) can gradually build the true story of what happened at a murder scene.
Our session was broken down into 3 parts of discovery, led equally by the excellent Leisa and Sue – who are not only authentic experts on the subject but enthusiastic and eager to answer any questions we had and trust me, they managed to answer a plethora of enquiries that we collectively threw at them.
First up was the classic we all know a little about in forensics: Fingerprinting. At home, we all received a kit that meant we could analyse our own ‘live’. Now we’ve all seen this done in the movies, but did you know that even before using ink, your skin is very oily? To prove this, we placed a few fingers on a small glass mirror, we were then able to dust them to ‘life’ using a fibre brush and aluminium powder to reveal what we’d left behind. Then, more simple but effective tech was implemented with fingerprint lifting strips to transport them onto a small ‘readable’ surface. From there, it’s a straightforward magnifying glass to reveal all your own secrets. The truth is, and some will know, every fingerprint is distinctive to you – but there’s more than just lines, there are virtually endless little patterns uniquely attached to your skin. Whilst looking closer, we were also given more of an education on the variations that forensic scientists look for. Even when you know certain things, it’s always intriguing.
Next up was the art of shoeprint (or foot!) casting, and in this case I used the shoes I was wearing. Contained in this part of the pack was an impression pad – which is a soft-foam like mould you step on to make the shoe ‘shape’ initially. After that, we mixed casting powder with water and poured it into the mould of our own shoe, you then leave it for about 20-30 minutes as it sets, to eventually create a perfect copy and detailed imitation, which you can see below! After it sets, you have to brush it out of the mould – like you were an archaeologist, slowly sweeping away the dust to find the prize beneath, it’s another excellent element and we were given more knowledge about how even the smallest thing can reveal so much. In this type of case, even the seasons of the year can date a print, or evidence, depending on seeds or situation.
Finally, we learned about blood spatter at a crime scene, and how the distance between droplets, and even the angle, can help solve a case and provide evidence. This comprised of everything from the direction of travel of blood on a wall, which can determine the velocity, point of origin and even the number of blows from a murder weapon. Deeply morbid but Scientific, and genuinely fascinating. In truth, the afternoon could have gone on for hours, as both Leisa and Sue had years of perceptive experience, and pretty much everyone had a different question they either wanted to ask or delve into further – and they obliged!
Because the team at Think Forensic were so passionate for the science, it made an enthralling encounter even more exciting with all the practical elements involved. I know people will always question how quickly crimes are solved on a TV Show or in a film, that classic Reality Vs Television argument, but there’s no doubt that having more people interested and aware of forensic science is a positive thing. It’s even better when shows like Castle offer a different way in, because they can certainly help educate the observer and create an ongoing fascination for all things forensic. I loved everything we got to try out and learn, and Leisa and Sue were also big fans of Castle, and I think you will be as well! I highly recommend the show, and Think Forensic, for their exceptional particular qualities.