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Humans Bite Harder Than Vampires April 21, 2010

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Book Reviews, Brain Power, Forensic Science, Human Body, Think About It.
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Tiko is wide-eyed with fright! What is scaring him? Could it be a vampire?

When National Geographic asked me to review their new book called Vampire Forensics, I had to ask myself if I had the guts to do it! As a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat, I wasn’t sure if learning about the origins of vampires would be something my timid self could take. Worse still was what happened when I attempted to grab Tiko for comfort. Once he heard me say “vampire,” he raced into the wardrobe and refused to emerge.

Like many people, I’m fascinated by popular vampire culture, from entertaining television shows to famous books such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The question that remains is – where did it all start and how did it become what it is today? And maybe the second question I had when I started reading Vampire Forensics was whether this book was a bite I could handle. Let’s find out!

Disease, Death And Burial

Researched and edited by Mark Jenkins, Vampire Forensics traces the history of vampire culture. Early on in the book, Jenkins writes about a mysterious, 16th century skull discovered in Venice that was thought to be the remains of a female vampire. The skull was buried with a brick jammed in its mouth, which people thought would stop the vampire from rising up to feed on others. In other areas of the book, diseases such as the plague or tuberculosis are linked to vampire myths, mostly due to signs of the disease such as paleness and the fact victims would waste away. Jenkins also goes on to merge ideas about burial and death with vampire culture.

While I expected a lot on forensics, this part of the book fell short. Instead, I read about all kinds of folklore that were scattered together without the structure a reader needs to make sense of it all. Where historical facts were relayed, these suggested a possible link to vampires, without the real forensic guts to strengthen the connection. It felt a bit like the writer was grasping at straws by choosing many random stories and trying to tie them in with vampire culture.

Poor Tiko is afraid of vampires. Perhaps if I read Vampire Forensics to him, he will learn they are not real. Now, I just have to figure out how to get him out of the wardrobe!

Still, there are heaps of fun tales and facts that kept the book interesting right to the end. I did shudder at some of the gory bits but in a sense, this is part of the appeal when it comes to vampires. People like to be afraid and they like the intrigue of the unknown.

Can You Handle It?

Who will like this book? Well, it’s not a book for my younger readers and even then, will probably only interest a select group of my teen readers. The graphic prose and macabre tales are gruesome at times. But for those who perhaps truly do fear vampires, this book brings that fear to a much less frightening reality. We learn how events that are most definitely of the human kind fueled the myths and fantasy that make up vampire culture today. While the book didn’t give much of a vampire bite, it left some strong human tooth marks. Ironically, I think readers may be left fearing humans far more than vampires.

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide June 7, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Drugs, Forensic Science, Think About It.
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I’m talking about criminals. With a new forensic technique developed by researchers at the University of East Anglia along with King’s College in London, it’s going to be a lot easier to catch criminals.

Fingerprints

New Technique? Tell Me About The Old One First

You’re probably familiar with the idea of fingerprinting right? Fingerprints have typically been used to identify people who commit crimes. They can even be used to rule out people who are innocent of crimes.

Traditionally, an investigator would start by taking fingerprints from a crime scene and then trying to either match them up to an immediate suspect or instead, they would check to see if they matched someone already in a database. Unfortunately, fingerprints couldn’t tell investigators much else about the suspect.

Not Anymore

With this new technique, a fingerprint can now tell investigators lots more about a person- like whether they smoke, use drugs or even what kinds of health conditions they have or medications they are taking.

Something To Make Criminals Sweat With Fear

It’s all in their sweat. A fingerprint leaves teeny tiny traces of sweat on a surface and people who do things like smoke have different metabolites in their sweat. These metabolites are the products leftover after your body is done breaking down all of the stuff you are exposed to plus the foods and drinks you consume.

More Meddling Scientists

Here’s where forensic scientists come in. They wash the prints with a nifty solution that only sticks to certain metabolites. For a smoker, cigarettes cause the body to produce a metabolite called cotinine.

Fingerprint-Neon

Credit: Wiley. The fingerprints first get prepped with a sequence of solutions filled with nanoparticles, antibodies and fluorescent dye. After exposure to light, fingerprints show vivid colors that no criminal can hide! Busted!

Nanotechnology

To detect cotinine in this recent study, researchers used a solution with gold nanoparticles attached to antibodies. The antibodies latched onto the cotinine and then researchers marked a second antibody with a fluorescent dye and added this to the fingerprint. The second antibody got cosy with the new cotinine antibody and after shining a light on the fingerprint, it gave off a super bright glow. Neon red, green, or yellow fingerprints? I think it’s really cool but then again, I have a feeling criminals won’t be too pleased about it.

Prison

The Ultimate Goal

If researchers can have it their way, they eventually hope to develop a solution that can detect a huge range of substances and will show a different color for each one. It’s like a printout of a person’s lifestyle habits and health simply from a fingerprint. A little fingerprint in a crime scene can now tell investigators all about the suspect’s health as well as offering a lifestyle profile. It might just be the last of this lifestyle a criminal gets before being captured and thrown into a brand new lifestyle. One with some big metal bars.

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