Learn more about forensic science or enjoy a mystery

  • Posted: Sunday, September 8, 2013 12:01 a.m.

SALISBURY — The human race has always been fascinated by the unknown. The young boy who asks “why” grows up to be the man who still seeks the truth among lies.

But can a team of investigators really acquire evidence based on a fingerprint or a suspicious book or a bloody knife? Is it really as simple as they make it seem on TV?


The field of forensic science may seem relatively new, but experiments with fingerprinting date back to the Chinese in the 600s BCE. By the 1500s, studies in anatomy and pathology laid the foundation for what would later be termed “forensic science.” Methods of detecting arsenic and other distilled chemicals in the body were discovered in the late 1700s. Dr. Henry Faulds became the first person to encourage use of fingerprints as a method of criminal identification in the late 1800s.

By the turn of the century, the United States Bureau of Identification had established a fingerprint collection; less than a decade later, the first criminal was convicted of murder based on fingerprint evidence. The FBI opened its first crime laboratory in 1932, and would eventually introduce an Automated Fingerprint Identification System. While there have been many advances in DNA testing and fingerprinting technology, often they are not enough to convict someone of a crime. Today, investigators depend upon forensics, the use of science and other disciplines (such as photography or biology) to establish evidence in criminal or civil courts of law.

Science backgrounds

Many bestselling fiction crime writers have backgrounds in forensics or related fields. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, mastermind behind Sherlock Holmes, used his scientific expertise gained while studying medicine under forensics expert Joseph Bell. Agatha Christie’s experience as a pharmacist gave her an inside look at poisons and chemicals, which were an instrument of homicide in the majority of her works.

Best-selling author Patricia Cornwell worked as a crime reporter and later as a technical writer for the Virginia medical examiner. Kathy Reichs brings her experience as a forensic anthropologist, professor of forensics, and consultant to the FBI into her forensic thrillers.

The robust resumes of these authors lend credibility to their writing and readability to their plots. Perhaps the old adage is true, it is best to write what you know.

Whether you want to learn more about becoming a forensic scientist, or enjoy a good page-turning crime novel, the Rowan Public Library has just the book for you. Books with 363.25 on the spine will lead you to an overview of forensics. With more than 250 full-color images, “Forensics” by Edward Ricciuti is an excellent illustrated guide for anyone interested in an overview of the history and practical applications of forensic science.

Another great illustrated guide is Richard Platt’s “Crime Scene: The Ultimate Guide to Forensic Science,” which includes photos of tools for the job, flow-charts for causes of death, and a section on “crimes without corpses” (which far outnumber those involving murder). “Fingerprints,” by Colin Beavan focuses on the impact of fingerprinting on crime detection and forensic science.

“Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” by Mary Roach, is an entertaining and surprisingly compelling look at what happens to bodies donated (willingly or otherwise) to science.

Plenty to shoose from

For a look into the fictional world of forensics, you may want to dive into Reichs’ Bones series, which features Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist and medical examiner. Cornwell’s forensic thrillers feature Kay Scarpetta, a medical examiner and forensic consultant. Meg Gardiner’s series features Jo Beckett, forensic psychiatrist. Iris Johansen’s novels feature Eve Duncan, forensic sculptor. Or there are always the classics: Poirot, the famous detective and examiner of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, or the all-knowing consulting detective Sherlock Holmes of Sir Author Conan Doyle’s mysteries, to name a few.

Not a reader? The library carries a number of the books and series mentioned above in audiobook and DVD formats. Whether you’re looking for serious study or light entertainment, Rowan Public Library has you covered.

Fall Story Time: Sept. 9-Nov. 29. For more information call 704-216-8234.

Baby Time — A loosely interactive program introducing simple stories and songs to 6- to 23-month-olds and their parents. Headquarters, Wednesdays, 10 a.m.; East, Mondays, 10 a.m.

Toddler Time — A program for children 18 to 35 months old with a parent, focused on sharing books, singing songs and encouraging listening skills. Headquarters, Tuesdays, 10:30 a.m.; East, Monday, 11 a.m.

Tiny Tumblers — A loosely interactive program for children 6 to 35 months old with a parent or caregiver introducing simple stories, musical scarves and instruments. Same program offered two separate days. South, Tuesdays or Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.

Preschool Time — A program for 3- to 5-year-olds to encourage the exploration of books and to build reading readiness skills. Headquarters, Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.; South, Tuesdays, 1:30 p.m.; East, Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.

Noodle Head Story Time — A program for children ages 4 to 8 to enjoy silly books and tales together. Headquarters, Thursdays, 4 p.m.; South, Mondays, 4 p.m.

Art programs — (South and East will start the week of Sept. 16). Learn different art techniques and start a new art project. Runs weekly during Story Time. Art in the Afternoon, Headquarters, Thursdays, 4:30 p.m.; The Paintbrush, South, Wednesdays, 4 p.m.; Art with Char, East, Thursdays, 4 p.m.

Computer classes: Basic Microsoft Publisher 2007 — Sept. 16, 7 p.m., South; Sept. 17, 1 p.m., East (registration required for East only, call 704-216-8229); Sept. 19, 9:30 a.m., Headquarters.

Learn how to create flyers and brochures using Microsoft Publisher 2007. Classes are free. Sessions are about 90 minutes. Class size is limited and on a first come, first serve basis. Dates and times are subject to change without notice.

PAC Club: Headquarters, Sept. 14, 11 a.m. “Flat Stanley” with duct tape crafts. Popular Activities and Crafts Club, focusing on a different children’s book series each month. Call 704-216-8234 for more information.

RPL welcomes storyteller Bill Harley: Headquarters, Sept. 19, 7 p.m., Stanback Auditorium. Bill is a Grammy-award winning artist who uses story and song to paint an entertaining picture of growing up, schooling and family life. He will do a one-hour family storytelling concert. This event is free and all are welcome.

RPL presents Cheerwine Music Hour concert: Amber Waves band, headquarters, Sept. 26, 7 p.m., Stanback Auditorium. The band plays a mixture of bluegrass and folk and original songs. Please enter Stanback Auditorium from the Fisher Street entrance. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free.

Book Bites Club: South (only), Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m., “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Book discussion groups for adults and children meet the last Tuesday of each month. The group is open to the public and anyone is free to join at any time. There is a discussion of the book, as well as light refreshments at each meeting. For more information, please call 704-216-8229.

Teen program: All 5:30-7 p.m. Free monthly programs for middle and high school students. Share your favorite books while creating your own tie-dye shirt (please bring your own T-shirt). Questions? Call 704-216-8234. South, Tuesday; East, Sept. 23; Headquarters, Sept. 24.

Displays for September: headquarters, Constitution month by DAR; South, miniature doll houses by Donna Deal and Terri Correll; East, wood by Whitey Harwood.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.

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