Traces left behind help scientists solve mysteries

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- I love to understand how stuff works.

I recently had the opportunity to peek into the world of crime-solving. You can't help but wonder if all those crime shows on television have it right. How can you possibly solve a complicated murder-mystery in an hour - minus 20 minutes for commercials?

The crime shows make it seem so easy. And how about all the evidence they find in the strangest places? Do we really leave that much of ourselves behind?

In my effort to answer these questions, KARE 11 and MPR News teamed up with students learning how to analyze evidence in real life.

Hamline University offers one of the metro's only forensic science programs. Forensic scientists-in-the-making can earn a certificate in the discipline. School officials say the proliferation of crime shows has led to increased popularity in the forensic science program.

So, with the help of two Hamline forensic science students, their professor and a willing participant test subject, I learned that we leave behind much more of ourselves every time we walk into a room or touch anything than I ever imagined.

This was a controlled experiment. But I think you get the idea. Forensic science has come a long way. You may never touch anything, look at smudges on a table or a strand of hair on the floor the same way again.

I know I won't.

At the end of the day, evidence left behind by people can help solve crimes. It may take longer than Hollywood's 40 minutes, but evidence that is collected and analyzed can tell the story of what happened and what didn't, answering age-old questions about the nature of identity.


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