Murder on the Beach – A Sand Lab

Sand lab cove

I was reading the article Soil Forensics Expert Digs Deep for Evidence which takes a look at the work of Robert Fitzpatrick, a specialist in the emerging field of soil forensics. Professor Fitzpatrick uses information gained from even the most minute of soil samples to reveal where people and things have been — which is usually where people say they haven’t.  The article caused me to think about a sand lab (see below) that I co-developed  a few years ago and how that activity helped to broaden my students’ interest in and understanding of the scope of forensics.  Labs that involve the analysis of soil and sand have often taken a back seat to some of the other more media popular topics such as blood spatter, DNA and ballistics, yet they can be quite instructive and educational. I would encourage you to ” dig” into and “sift” through the content and labs that are available and consider adding this topic to your current forensics course as it fits particularly well in a trace evidence unit.

The basic premise of this sand lab is that something bad has happened to someone on the beach at Prospector’s Cove and during the course of the investigation, a number of suspects have been identified, all of whom have what appeared to be sand on their belongings.  Part one of the lab involves students analyzing the samples from the suspects – thus creating a database of knowns or exemplars.  Part two is when the students have the opportunity to analyze the sand evidence taken from the victim and attempt to determine whether the evidence is a match to any of the suspects using only their notes from part one and benefiting from being able to do direct comparisons. With a little bit of effort on the front end, it is possible to have every lab group have a different solution which helps to keep the groups a bit more honest and on task.

Here is the link to the sand lab that I co-authored:  This website also provides additional information on the lab as well as serving as a source of additional information related to the more general topic of forensic geology.

This version of the lab includes the data table. Murder on the Beach

Addition web resources:

Forensic Science for Kids – Sand Mystery 

Beach Sand Lab Activity

A Grain of Sand Lab Activity

Sand Analysis Lab