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Playing Detective: Looking at Fingerprints Using the Microscope

No matter how ironclad their alibis are, it’s still possible for a good crime scene investigator to catch a criminal by examining the crime scene. One sure-fire way to identify a criminal is by looking at fingerprints they had left behind at the scene of the crime. Of course, with TV and movies talking about the process of fingerprint examination, your average criminal would now be smart enough to wear gloves and masks while taking care of business. But there is no perfect crime, after all, and chances are, there is probably something the criminal had overlooked while making their speedy getaway.

Looking at and matching fingerprint samples is still very much in use in investigations since every fingerprint is unique to only one person. You can then be sure that there could be no mistakes in identifying the criminal using fingerprints. The police force usually has files on people’s fingerprints that they would match with the fingerprint sample that they have found on the crime scene. They would also take fingerprint samples from people suspected of the crime and match with them as well.

It would be a fun microscope activity for the students or children to try looking at their fingerprints under the microscope and comparing them with the fingerprints of other people. Here are some fun activities that you could do with stereo microscope and your fingerprints. For these activities, you’re going to need: a stamp pad, fresh paper, magnifying glass (also known as a simple microscope), notebook, scissors.

Let’s start by placing your fingertip on the stamp pad. Roll it around a bit to make sure that there is ink covering the whole surface of your fingertip. Then press your fingertip against the sheet of blank paper, repeat the rolling motion that you have done in the stamp pad. This would allow you to leave a whole fingerprint mark on the paper. Don’t make any sudden movements that may blur the mark. Remember to wash your hands before going on with the activity. You don’t want to get ink stains your microscope! If you want, you could look at the fingerprint with a simple magnifying glass before looking at it under the microscope. There are some types of fingerprints that you might be able to recognize. Some fingerprint patterns include the whorl, loop and arch.

Now that you have your fingerprint on paper, cut off the piece you want to observe and clip it into place on the stereo microscope stage. With this kind of activity, it would be best to use the light at the top of your microscope. This kind of light is the incident light. Another kind of light that is used by the stereomicroscope is the transmitted light and this one comes from under the stage of the microscope. Because transmitted light might pass through the fibers of the paper where your fingerprint is, it could be harder to see the patterns of your fingerprint through the eyepiece. However, it is often good practice when viewing specimens on a microscope to try out both types of illumination to see the differences. Often, each will have its own benefit.

You could take the fingerprints of other people and compare them with each other. Try taking note about how your fingerprints differ as well. Your fingers aren’t the only parts of your body that have prints on them. You could try this activity with your toes or the palms of your hands as well. In any case, this is a simple and easy microscope experiment for kids and students to begin learning about the stereo microscope as well as introducing them to the world of forensic science.

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