Someone kidnapped the Plymouth Whitemarsh High School mascot, leaving behind a ransom note, and it was up to sixth graders at Colonial Middle School (CMS) to use science to find the guilty party.
"We're solving a crime," explained Jenna, who's in sixth grade at CMS. "We're using pen markings and an experiment to figure out who stole the mascot."
Finding evidence through chromatography
The students took ink samples from the pens of the suspects and compared the samples to the ink on the ransom note using chromatography. In chromatography, scientists split a mixture into its different components by putting it in another substance that causes the ingredients in the first mixture to "travel" at different rates. When the sixth graders put the ink samples in ethanol, the black dots developed colorful trails that showed the differences in the ink.
"It's cool to see how the evidence comes together and how you can really figure it out," said Alexa.
Science in Motion
The project is part of Science In Motion, an initiative created and run by a dozen colleges across the state, that brings scientists and advanced laboratory equipment into Pennsylvania schools. Dr. Kelly Mowery, a chemistry professor from Ursinus College, led the activity at CMS.
"I've done this same experiment with college students," said Dr. Mowery. "While I can go more in depth into how the different components travel [with the college students], the middle school students have a basic understanding of what's happening and are all excited to find out the results."
The future of Forensic Science for CMS sixth graders
The experiment ties into the sixth grade science unit on the properties of matter and gives the students a real world connection that could lead to a potential career in the future.
"It would be fun, and it would also be a lot of hard work," said Aja. "You'd need to be patient, and you have to be really good at science."If Forensic Science does spark the students' interest, the sixth graders will have a chance to study it more in depth as one of the many science electives available at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.