Visible Proofs

March 3, 2006, midnight | By Lois Bangiolo | 15 years, 8 months ago

Learn the science behind forensics

A stark white sheet covers an autopsy table. To the left are five skulls showcasing the effects of sword blade, hammer and gunshot wounds on the human cranium.

Welcome to "Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body," a new exhibit at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Bethesda that runs through Feb. 16, 2008. This exhibit explores the progression of forensic science from its beginnings in the 1600s to the complex technologies of DNA testing and 3-D computer imaging used today.

Not for the squeamish, the exhibit displays many graphical and colorful images of death and injuries; the most nauseatingly interesting is the video of an actual autopsy. Three organ specimens are also lined up, showing the trauma a gunshot or stab wound can cause an organ. There are bugs, too — the presence and number of insects on a discovered corpse give clues to the time of death.

The exhibit is not all displays and graphics to be seen and not touched. Visitors can add their fingerprints to the computer database, entering their fingerprints again later to see if the software can recognize a match or printing them out as souvenir. Three tiny models of crime scenes let visitors step into the role of a criminal investigator, asking what their next step would be to figure out what really happened in the scene. The Experience Zone at the back of the exhibits offers other hands-on activities. The FACES software on three computers allows visitors to choose eyes, mouths, noses and other distinctive facial features — including tattoos — and create a face or test their memory of viewed faces. A microscope is set up to view the evidence, such as hair and blood particles, typically found at crime scenes. A flat panel laid out like an autopsy table takes viewers through several cases, showing how forensics was used to discover cause of death.

Forensics is gruesome, but fascinating — sensational accounts of murders were sold as pamphlets to the public when the sciences of forensics was at its start, and continuing to today, with popular televisions shows such as "CSI" and "Law and Order." A small display in the exhibit showcases pamphlets, cartoons, novels and games is witness to our continual fascination with death.

Visit the Visible Proofs web site for hours or more information.

Lois Bangiolo. Lois Bangiolo was born on March 14, pi day, an auspicious date as she is now in the math-science magnet. In addition to writing for Silver Chips Online she runs track and is secretary of the MBHS Key Club. More »

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