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CSI: North Colonie

"They definitely have to be trained [in science]," she said of all law-enforcement agents.

Forensics is a growing field, she said, and it is also encouraging an interest in science in young girls and women.

"We're seeing it across the board," she said.

Student Becky Poleto said she has an interest in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Analysis Unit, and that sparked her interest in the course. She said she enjoyed the blood spatter unit, in particular.

An avid reader of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Poleto said she is hoping to go to college near Elmira, where the FBI has a facility she hopes to intern at.

Joni Zucker said the course was a more interesting alternative to some of the other electives the school offered and Dan Woogsinger said he wanted something science-based since he hopes to become a pharmacist.

Alyssa Schienberg said she took the course because of her interest in how forensics is portrayed on television. Woogsinger said he does not watch a lot of television, but when he does, crime shows are all he watches.

Ryan talked about the "CSI effect," which, for better or worse, has created unrealistic expectations about what is practical and possible when analyzing a crime scene.

She said the class will watch shows like CSI more critically and try to see where unrealistic determinations are made.

She quipped that popular media may deter criminals who think it too hard to commit crimes and noted that it does help generate interest in the field.

Other shows like "Forensic Files" and DVDs about actual cases also supplement the course.

Ryan is also looking to bring in guest speakers and is discussing the possibility of having someone from the Colonie Police Department speak to the class about forensics.

On Monday, Feb. 8, the students were focused on handwriting, identity fraud, ransom notes and letters taunting police. Historical cases were discussed, including the 1888 Jack the Ripper letters allegedly sent to taunt police. The class studied handwriting from different incidents to see if theories about copycat murders panned out.

The class also studied the Zodiac killer from the late 1960s and more modern cases like that of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey in 1996.

Forensics attempts to "individualize" evidence at a scene, Ryan said, to pinpoint who is responsible for creating evidence at a scene.

"You have to think about things differently," she said.

Students also used laboratory classes to study DNA samples using "electrophoresis."

"DNA fingerprinting is used routinely to solve crimes," Ryan said. "By examining the results in our labs, the students really get a feel for how crimes in the real world are cracked."

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