Sunday, October 26, 2008

CSI Manchester

Museum of Science and Industry, 26 October 2008

We knew it wasn't an ordinary seminar as soon as we walked in the room. A crime scene body outline lay in the middle of the floor, along with yellow police tape. A quick glance round at the finger print pads, hand held microscopes and soil samples confirmed this.

Aimed at budding crime writers, CSI Manchester was about the scientific methods behind collecting and analysing evidence at crime scenes. The workshop was led by Micro Biologist Dr Rachel Crossley. And you can forget the white coat and spectacles stereotype. Think more of British Melina Kanakaredes (CSI New York). Dr Crossley is a Science and Engineering Ambassador for STEMNET, an organisation which aims to encourage more young people in the UK to go into science, technology, engineering and maths. The workshop we were about to take part in was originally designed for school children.

The event began with a quick presentation covering the basic analysis of fibres, soil, DNA, handwriting, fingerprints and footprints. Perhaps the most interesting part was learning about how DNA is analysed. There's more to this than some crime programmes would have us believe.

After the presentation it was our turn. We were invited to walk around the room and analyse some of the evidence from our crime scene. Hand-held microscopes were used to identify and compare hair and fibres. We compared handwriting samples, searching for similarities in the strokes and we looked at fingerprints and footprints. Of course, we also had a go at taking our own fingerprints. Well, why not? We placed fingers and thumbs carefully on the chemical paper and dabbed them gently onto reactive card and watched, fascinated, as the prints appeared.

It was a fun event and a useful starting point for anyone considering writing about crime. It covered the basics which as Dr Crossley explained, are used everyday in the field. Anyone seriously considering writing about crime would have to go into significantly more detail than this. But it was a useful starting point to whet your appetite.

Further Reading: Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection, Joe Nickell and John F Fischer, The University Press of Kentucky (28 Feb 1999)


Jenny Hudson also blogs at and

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