Television shows depicting forensic science – from network hits like “CSI” to the macabre “Dexter” – may pull in big ratings and generate buzz around the process of catching the bad guys.

But how realistic are these portrayals?

Youth can find out firsthand through a series of workshops provided by the West Virginia University Next Generation Forensic Science Initiative. Through hands-on, laboratory-based activities, middle- and high-school students can learn the fundamental aspects of fingerprints, footwear impression evidence, firearm identification, bloodstain pattern analysis and biometrics.

Classes are free, and each will last 90 minutes. The schedule of classes is:

• Biometrics, Jan. 25
• Fingerprints, Feb. 22
• Footwear impression evidence, March 22
• Firearm identification, April 26
• Bloodstain pattern analysis, May 24

Maximum enrollment for each class is 25 students, filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Classes for middle school students will begin at 10 a.m. while classes for high school students will start at 1 p.m.

Both classes will take place at the Vehicle Processing Center in WVU’s Crime Scene Complex at 383 Oakland St., Morgantown.

Gerald Lang, of WVU Research, says the workshops evolved from the University’s participation in the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. At the nine-day summer event in Mount Hope, the University showcased its forensic sciences program with 11 different activities representing seven different forensic disciplines. Those exercises involved alternate light source applications, biometrics, bloodstain pattern analysis, digital evidence, fingerprints, footwear, firearms and tool marks. Scouts who completed four or more exercises received a patch from WVU.

Lang said they gave out 6,000 patches in four days.

“The concept is rooted in STEM education,” Lang said. “Our goal is to expose youth to the sciences.”

Chris Bily, instructional coordinator, Forensic and Investigative Science, said the classes will give students a more realistic view of how investigators treat crime scenes and test evidence.

“A lot of what they see on TV is not reality,” Bily said. “Television forensic science is frequently misrepresented, faculty incorrect and glamorized for television ratings purposes. This will provide them with a hands-on experience of forensic science, and in doing so, it will open their mind’s eye to the possibility of pursing forensic science as a career.”

To register or for more information, contact Bily at



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