Whodunit? Criminal forensic lab welcomes local sleuthing fans

After seeing these real-life labs, I now understand that it's not as easy as I imagined ... It makes me admire the ingenuity of our police force.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

An officer at the fingerprint office at the Shanghai Police Institute of Forensic Science guides a student on how to press his fingers on a machine and see the prints come up clearly on a computer screen. The visiting students could then see how the prints are processed to look for matches in the police database.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Conan Edogawa and other fictional sleuths had the chance to indulge their passion for crime detection over the weekend as the Shanghai Police Institute of Forensic Science opened its key laboratory of crime scene evidence to the public.

A high turnout was not surprising. TV shows like South Korea’s “Crime Scene” and the domestic production “Who’s the Murderer?” are popular with the Chinese public.

But to most people, real-life detection of crime is a mystery. The police institute’s open days sought to dispel some of that mystery as part of the Shanghai Science Festival.

Visitors were told how police officers collect evidence from crime scenes and how that evidence is processed. They were allowed into labs such as the drug identification center, biological material evidence office and fingerprint section.

China has a long history of forensic science.

The first major work on forensic medicine was “Xi Yuan Ji Lu,” or the “Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified through Forensic Science,” published in 1247, according to Liu Yanan, an officer with the biological material evidence office.

It was written by forensic medical expert Song Ci (1186-1249) and greatly influenced forensic science for generations.

Of course, modern forensic scientists have more sophisticated ways to identify suspects, like biological evidence test and fingerprinting.

Liu said genetic information matching is used primarily to identify individuals and to determine paternity.

Among the cases cited was a gold shop robbery about eight years ago in Minhang District. A biological sample taken from a mask worn by one of the three robbers and left at the scene matched the sample of a suspect in a taxi robbery in Guizhou Province.

In another case a year later, a woman was found dead and burned in Jiading District. On car floor mats used to cover the body at the scene, officers got a biological sample from drops of spittle drops and were able to identify the perpetrator.

A paternity test using this technology was used in the case of a pregnant woman found dead in the Huangpu River seven years ago. Her genetic information led police to the baby’s father, who was implicated in her death.

The fingerprint office at the institute allowed visitors to press their fingers on a machine and see their prints come up clearly on a computer screen. They could then see how prints are processed to look for matches in the police database.

“Sometimes we will feel that we are living in a very safe world,” said one officer at the site. “But there are some truly bad people whose villainous natures cannot be discerned by their appearance. So we need to ferret them out by fingerprints.”

The exhibition room of the drugs section showed visitors different types of narcotics, and even pointed out where some drugs can be disguised as candy or other daily items. In a separate lab, visitors could see how drugs are tested.

Zou Yunzhi, 14, an eighth grader from Yangpu District, said police in TV shows always seem to solve crimes quickly.

“After seeing these real-life labs, I now understand that it’s not as easy as I imagined,” Zou said. “There are many technologies required in solving a case. It makes me admire the ingenuity of our police force.”

Xu Xingze, 12, is a fan of Sherlock Holmes. He told Shanghai Daily that he was amazed at how technology is being constantly updated to help crime fighters.

His mother said she hoped the event would broaden his horizon and prompt an interest in science subjects like biology, chemistry and physics.

“People are interested in crime stoppers,” Zhang Yurong, an executive of the institute, told Shanghai Daily. “The science and technology we use in breaking cases are interlinked with general science. We hope events like this will spur young people to study science and technology and open their eyes to the dangers of drugs.”

The police weren’t the only institution to fling open the doors of labs to the public during the science festival. Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine invited the public in to learn about research in areas such as stem cells and the immune system.

Yi Jing, a professor at the school, showed visitors a “microworld under the microscope,” revealing secrets of cells and antioxidation.

She said the university has a duty to try to popularize science. Since 2014, her lab has opened to the public once or twice a year.

City museums also hosted an array of activities for the science festival.

The Shanghai Natural History Museum held a “museum night” on Friday, featuring dinosaurs.

“I saw many species of creatures tonight and learned a lot about them,” said Yang Hanqing, a fifth grader.

Earlier last week, the Shanghai Textile Museum held an event showing students an ancient dyeing technique used to pattern cloth.

Changfeng Ocean World’s Living Art Aquarium also held a special activity for children where they could create their own fish and make them come alive on screens in water tanks.

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