By Adam Gropman
As a kid I watched the TV show Quincy, Medical Examiner and really wanted to be a coroner – the special kind of doctor that wears a white lab coat and goggles, cuts open dead bodies and gets to proclaim righteously about blunt objects, toxic residues and the urban-mythic drug PCP. What turned me on was the combination of crime-solving and science, the fact that he and his (stoic Asian) work partner could be all logical and by-the-numbers with their laboratory analysis and yet still feel some of the passionate “juice” of going toe-to-toe with dangerous bad guys, even if at a much safer distance than the street cops.
The ridiculously successful TV show franchise CSI sort of follow in Jack Klugman's (Quincy's) big footsteps, although instead of being coroners, the main characters on the show are crime scene investigators. These are the well-trained forensic scientists who back up law enforcement in cities large enough to have such facilities and personnel, and they connect all of the chemical/biological/logistical/ballistic dots handed in by the detectives and uniform cops.
Whereas Quincy was personally intense and a bit emotionally grandiose, taking his East Coast mishigas during climactic moments to nearly Shakespearean levels, the cast(s) of CSI seem to be as sleek, controlled and emotionally level as high-functioning androids. But they're just ably doing their job, as the real stars of CSI are beakers, test tubes, microscopes, swabs, reactive chemicals, ballistics tests, computerized databases and all sorts of other ultra-clever, highly ingenious tools for busting the poor fools who dare cross the law and commit crimes in the cities of Las Vegas, Miami or New York.
The traveling CSI: The Experience exhibit sponsored by the TV show itself, in cooperation with various science centers/museums, is currently at L.A.'s California Science Center and features a virtual plethora of interesting, often hands-on displays regarding the start-to-finish techniques of scientific investigative crime-solving and will prove highly interesting and informative to the future crime scene investigator as well as to the citizen who found him or herself hopelessly addicted to the OJ Simpson or Phil Spector trials.
It starts with a presentation by CSI creator Anthony Zuiker – and some other CSI-related experts – on a large screen TV, and ends with a final filing of one's facts and conclusions into a computer terminal. Along the way there are three well constructed and production designed “serious crime” scenes – a death involving a car crashing into a home; a dead body in an alley; and a skeleton found in the desert. As you proceed through the slightly maze-like exhibit, you hit certain evidence “stations” along the way, depending which of the three crimes you were assigned at the beginning.
Along the way you use a combination of wall charts and photos, interactive computer programs and three dimensional physical examples – including a chemistry station replete with colorful chemical reactions in lit up test tubes – to ascertain the facts and fill in your trusty evidence card with a supplied golf pencil.
If you believe the trend-spotters, social scientists and public watchdogs, one of the biggest crimes happening in America today may be the under – educating of our youth in the hard sciences. CSI – both the TV show and the live exhibit – may well be helping to do something about it!