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NMHM concludes successful "Forensic Friday" program

By: Paul Bello, National Museum of Health and Medicine

SILVER SPRING, Md. – This past school year was eye opening for approximately 40 local middle school students, as they successfully completed the "Forensic Friday" program hosted by the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM).

The museum has long had many initiatives that highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related concepts. "Forensic Friday" was able to take things a step further by incorporating applications involving DNA extraction and forensic research so students could help identify the fictional remains of a fallen U.S. service member from the Vietnam War.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the conflict that ran from 1955-1975. Museum staff thought it would be symbolic to not only recognize the efforts of those lost, but to showcase the topic of forensics with insightful, hands-on case studies for young students.

"Each month was a different concept related to forensics. Students acted as investigators, compiled reports and made an identification of the remains," said Gwen Nelmes, tour program coordinator for the museum. "We also thought it would be a great way to showcase the work of our own staff. We have a strong forensics collection here, as well as the expertise from subject matter experts."

Everything just fell into place, according to Nelmes. Students learned to work with one another in teams and they also got to sit down and talk one-on-one with field experts, like Franklin Damann, anatomical curator for NMHM.

"I was thoroughly impressed with the level of education from these students. They were really interested in the program and stepped up when it was time to use their problem-solving skills," Damann said. "Forensics is not an easy subject. I thought they handled things exceptionally well. It was a great experience."

Like Damann, Juan Bassett, a histology technician for NMHM, also worked with students throughout the year. He was equally impressed with their approach to the topic of forensic research.

"They had great enthusiasm and asked great questions," Bassett said. "They especially liked the fact that activities were hands-on and not straight out of a book. Having that kind of presentation was perfect for something like this."

Students also learned about such organizations like the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command/Central Identification Laboratory and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprinting analysis division. All have integral parts in the identification of human remains and all have to communicate with one another, Nelmes said.

"This was an excellent program for kids. It's not often someone their age can sit down with an expert in forensic study," said Martha Girz, a parent to one of the students. "I really liked the way it was presented. It made everything all the more interesting."

 

Caption: Three students complete a hands-on archaeology exercise during the August 2013 "Forensic Fridays" program at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Md.
Caption: Two boys perform an ink analysis experiment during the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) Forensic Fridays program on July 19, 2013 at NMHM in Silver Spring, Md. Forensic Fridays is a monthly program that will feature different topics related to forensic identification in the U.S. military. Participants are middle-school students in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Caption: National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) Histology Technician Juan Bassett helps a student work through an exercise on dental identification during a Forensic Friday program Feb. 21, 2014, at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Md.
Caption: Gathered around a set of model skeletal remains, Gwen Nelmes, National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) tour program coordinator, answers a student's question during NMHM's Oct. 18, 2013 Forensic Fridays workshop.
Caption: A group of students review material evidence, such as dog tags, pieces of pottery and buttons, during the National Museum of Health and Medicine's Sept. 20, 2013 Forensic Fridays workshop.
Caption: Franklin Damann, Ph.D., anatomical curator at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM), addresses students during a Forensic Friday workshop on June 20, 2014, at NMHM, in Silver Spring, Md. The Forensic Friday program was created to highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related concepts to students from around the region.
Caption: A team of students analyze data to form a biological profile of an unknown individual using data collected at previous Forensic Friday programs at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM), on June 20, 2014, at NMHM, in Silver Spring, Md. The Forensic Friday program was created to highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related concepts to students from around the region.