SCHOOL AND BONES

New York City’s chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner in­tro­duces the next gen­er­a­tion of foren­sic sci­en­tists to her lab.

Metro USA (New York) - - Front Page -

The wan­ing days of sum­mer va­ca­tion aren’t nor­mally when teenagers are think­ing about their ca­reer op­tions, much less one rou­tinely in­volv­ing corpses and skele­tons.

But last week, New York City Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Dr. Bar­bara Samp­son wel­comed more than 200 high school stu­dents tour­ing the Charles S. Hirsch Cen­ter for Foren­sic Sciences in Man­hat­tan, where deaths in the city are in­ves­ti­gated.

“There’s roughly 500 med­i­cal ex­am­in­ers in the coun­try, and 30 of them are here,” she said. “The most cut­ting-edge sci­ence in the na­tion hap­pens right here.”

The tour showed off the na­tion’s largest DNA test­ing lab and was in­tended to gen­er­ate in­ter­est in a fast-grow­ing field that TV shows have glam­or­ized, but still has trou­ble at­tract­ing enough foren­sic sci­en­tists.

In ad­di­tion to per­form­ing au­top­sies, iden­ti­fy­ing miss­ing persons, deal­ing with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, terrorism and help­ing crim­i­nal jus­tice through sci­ence, Samp­son makes it clear what her of­fice is all about:

“We feel we have a big mis­sion in ed­u­ca­tion,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve had the stu­dents in. We speak at schools and see so much in­ter­est from young peo­ple.”

Dur­ing the tour, which co­in­cided with Na­tional

ERIC GIRARD @MetroNewYork

Foren­sic Sci­ence Week, stu­dents heard from Samp­son; Dr. Jen­nifer Ham­mers, deputy chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner for Brooklyn and Staten Is­land; and Dr. Bradley Adams, city di­rec­tor of foren­sic an­thro­pol­ogy. Adams showed how foren­sic sci­ence played a role in lo­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing solv­ing the 2005 mob hit at the his­toric Kreis­cher Man­sion homi­cide in Staten Is­land.

In the labs, stu­dents saw every step of DNA anal­y­sis, from de­ter­min­ing whether a piece of ev­i­dence has enough DNA for test­ing to gen­er­at­ing DNA pro­files of crim­i­nals and miss­ing persons.

Megan Erhardt, a 16-year-old ju­nior from Hunt­ing­ton, Long Is­land, is aim­ing for a ca­reer as a foren­sic bi­ol­o­gist and hop­ing to even­tu­ally work for the FBI.

Erhardt, who has al­ways had a pas­sion for sci­ence, skipped teaching sum­mer camp to at­tend. She, like oth­ers, ad­mit­ted that tele­vi­sion played a role in piquing her in­ter­est in foren­sics.

“I watched the CSI shows,” she said. “I wasn’t as in­ter­ested in the gory stuff as I was in DNA and how sci­ence helped solve things.”

Samp­son ac­knowl­edges that TV shows like “Foren­sic Files,” “Dex­ter,” “Crim­i­nal Minds” and “Quincy, M.E.,” all men­tioned by those in at­ten­dance, cre­ate in­ter­est in foren­sic sci­ence. She says the shows are “mostly ac­cu­rate ex­cept for the time it takes to ac­tu­ally get things done. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a show calls with a ques­tion, but we’re not ac­tive con­sul­tants.”

Chris Hill, a foren­sic mor­tu­ary tech­ni­cian at the cen­ter who lives in Man­hat­tan, thought it was im­por­tant to bring his son, Chris Hill Jr., even if it meant the 16-year-old high school ju­nior would miss foot­ball prac­tice at his home in Mary­land.

“This was a great op­por­tu­nity to see some­thing I might want to do when I get older,” Hill Jr. said.

Bianca Bran­don, a sci­ence teacher at Staten Is­land Tech­ni­cal School who in­terned and then worked at the cen­ter ear­lier in her ca­reer, brought sev­eral of her stu­dents.

“I hope this can be valu­able for them,’’ she said. “By bring­ing them here, it brings a level of au­then­tic­ity.”

BESS ADLER

BESS ADLER

Foren­sic an­thro­pol­o­gists An­gela Soler, above, and Ben­jamin Figura, below, speak about foren­sic dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of bones with the high school stu­dents. In­set is a fa­cial re­con­struc­tion model.

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