CSI comes to Battle Mountain High
If you hated science in high school, you never had Mark von Stralendorff as a teacher. Von Stralendorff teaches forensic science at Battle Mountain High School, and with the popularity of network shows such as CSI, the class is popular with many students at the schoolEven the syllabus sheet for the class is fascinating. It describes forensic science as the application of science to the law, offering knowledge and technology needed for definition, enforcement and clarification of the use of evidence in criminal and civil cases.Forensic science draws on the disciplines of life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences to form an integrated application of the different disciplines. The course focuses on problem solving, and students work in teams to theorize, design experiments, research forensic methodologies, synthesize information and make conclusions based on their own empirical evidence.Students study crime scene analysis and DNA analysis, among other things. Recently, students studied hairs – from dogs, cats and humans – under a microscope.Straight, curly, kinkyThe pre-lab class discussion has a person methodically planning and executing the perfect murder. No fingerprints or cigarettes are left behind, but the perpetrator forgot the chance he or she may have left a strand of hair behind. Whether this hair is from the scalp, arm, face or chest, it can be analyzed by the forensic scientist for many characteristics. Hair presents itself as indirect or circumstantial evidence in a court of law. This evidence would be used in conjunction with other forensic evidence.The forensic scientist would testify to the similarities of hair samples, just like someone would testify the comparison of fingerprints.Junior Brittany Martinez rushed to her younger sister Ricci Jo’s classrooms to rip a hair out of her head.”I’m going to compare hers to mine,” Martinez said. The girls’ hair looked similar under the scope. The scientist examines hair for cuticular scales, color, shape of medulla and the medullary index. Most often the scientist is dealing with animal hair. As far as human hair, the shape can be straight, curly or kinky. Hair that’s round is straight; oval is curly; and excessively oval is kinky. The kids who had blond hair showed no medulla, so that looked different than darker-haired students. Martinez and Clarissa Gallegos looked at color, fracturing of cuticle and roots under the scope. The girls could tell who recently had a hair cut and who needed one by the color and shape of the strand.The animal hairs were obviously bigger. Senior Jeremiah Hickey looked at dog, cat and human hair. While looking at the dog hair, it was obviously different. “Forensic scientists can even tell what species of dog it is by looking at a strand of hair,” Hickey said. Reaching studentsAbout 25 students at a time can take forensics.”This class attracts the most students,” said von Stralendorff, adding that everyone from straight-A science buffs to those who despise science take the class. The class romanticizes science and draws in the interest of students who typically wouldn’t be interested in the subject, he said. Eagle County School District Superintendent John Brendza agreed.”This is another way of reaching students,” he says. “We’re very proud of that course and are happy that students are enjoying it.”For more information on course offerings or programs at Battle Mountain High School, call 328-2930.