Monday, July 01, 2013

[554] CSI:MTSU 2013 uses forensic science to fascinate students

MURFREESBORO — How does a bone break? More importantly, did it really break the way someone told you it did?

At last week’s CSI:MTSU summer camp, youngsters fascinated by forensic science found four days filled with the same science and math they see in their regular junior high and high school classes.

Of course, science and math were even more intriguing than usual here because, like some of their favorite crime shows, items were covered in “blood,” smashed against the ground or tossed haphazardly into a bathtub. And there were no commercials breaking up this crime procedural.

“There are patterns we can see in bone and other substances that can help us understand what happened,” Dr. Hugh Berryman explained to a room full of CSI campers in a classroom at MTSU’s Horse Science Center.

“If someone says that something happened one way, you can look at the way a bone fractured and see what really did happen. You can confirm a story, or you can break a story and find a lie.”

Berryman, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist who teaches in MTSU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and founded the university’s Forensic Institute for Research and Education, specializes in bone fracture mechanics.

His colleagues at last week’s event also shared their forensic expertise with the campers, including his former student Dr. Alicja K. Lanfear, who taught campers the intricacies of fingerprints.

“The detail in your print is what's really going to make your print individual,” Lanfear, who is a research assistant at the institute, told the students. “It's all in the minutiae, in the details.”

The 2013 CSI campers, like their predecessors since 2006, were faced with a re-creation of a crime scene on their first day. Let’s just say this year’s involved a body and blunt trauma and crime scenes in the Tennessee Miller Coliseum and the master bath at the MTSU Foundation House  — knock on wood.

Campers get the basic facts of the case and are shown how to collect and process evidence. They learn how to conduct interviews and develop theories as a team, then present their findings and conclusions to a panel of forensic scientists on the last day of camp. (You can watch a brief video at

They also learn that even the experts still have questions they can’t answer.

“One mystery to me, and I love it because I can’t figure it out, is the butterfly, or delta, fracture,” Berryman said, pointing to an illustration showing a bone with a wedge-shaped break, like a triangle popping out of a pipe.

“I don’t know WHY this fracture goes in two directions. Why could it do that? We see a lot of it in motor vehicle accidents and I want to know how it works, but I can’t figure it out. I’ve been trying to since the late ’80s, long before you all were born.”

It boils down to physics, he told the group, but “the problem is that we don’t understand all the elements.”

In addition to the annual CSI:MTSU camps, the Forensic Institute for Research and Education offers free public lectures featuring renowned forensic science experts each semester.

FIRE also provides regular educational and training opportunities for law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, attorneys, social workers and other groups in forensic science and homeland security.

For more information about CSI:MTSU, including next year’s camp, visit You can learn more about FIRE by visiting or emailing

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