Linda Hall Library
Science Engineering Technology

Connecting the Dots: The Science of CSI

March 16 – September 1, 2017

High-profile murder cases and popular television programs such as CSI, Bones, and Forensics Files have brought the laboratory work of forensic scientists into mainstream popular culture. Visitors to Connecting the Dots will explore the history of several disciplines within forensic science: fingerprints, chemistry, biology, firearms, photography, and trace evidence. Highlights of material on display will include:

  • Nehemiah Grew’s description and illustration of friction ridges on fingers published in 1684.
  • James Marsh’s arsenic test published in 1836, the fundamental basis for tests used today.
  • Alphonse Bertillon’s identification system (known as “Bertillonage”) of the late 19th century based on body measurements and photographs (the latter became the basis for today’s mug shot). Bertillon’s system was adopted by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. prior to the development of fingerprinting systems.
  • Bertillon also developed modern crime scene photography techniques, including a metric photography system that enabled police officers to calculate the volume, depth, and distance of objects in a crime scene.
  • Francis Galton’s (a cousin of Charles Darwin) late 19th century publications on fingerprints in which he became the first to establish the uniqueness and permanence of fingerprints and to develop a classification system based on loops (patterns that curve back upon themselves), whorls (circular patterns), and arches (patterns which form no loops or circles).
  • Calvin Goddard’s forensic ballistics work that gained him national prominence in the 1920s with his forensic studies in the Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti murder case in Massachusetts (Goddard proved Sacco’s gun was used in the crime) and in the investigation of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago (Goddard showed that Chicago police officers were not involved in the murders).
  • Landmark articles on DNA, including Watson’s and Crick’s double-helix article from 1953 and British geneticist Alec Jeffreys’ publications from the mid-1980s when he became the first scientist to develop DNA fingerprinting.

Visitors will also discover two important courts cases, Frye v. United States in 1923 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in 1993, which have shaped how courts admit forensic science as evidence. In Frye, the admissibility of a lie detector test was at issue; it was not allowed because deception tests, according to the D.C. Court of Appeals, had not yet gained general acceptance in the scientific community.

Courts used this “general acceptance” standard for the next 70 years until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Daubert (a lawsuit alleging the morning sickness drug Bendectin caused birth defects) that, in addition to general acceptance, a scientific theory or technique should be tested, subjected to peer review and publication, has a known or potential error rate, and has standards controlling its operation.

The East Gallery will be a staged, interactive crime scene where visitors will match fingerprints, analyze DNA, compare shell casings and fibers, and weigh the evidence to “solve” the crime.

This exhibition is made possible through funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Gridley Family Foundation.


Exhibition galleries and the William N. Deramus III Cosmology Theater are open Monday – Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the Second Saturday of each month from 10:00 a.m. to  2:00 p.m. Admission and parking are free for Library visitors. Advance registration is not required.

Saturday openings for 2017:

January 14 April 8 July 8  October 14
February 11 May 13 August 12 November 11
March 11 June 10 September 9 December 9

Reference, research, and circulation services are not available on Second Saturdays.

RSS Notifications

  • The Library will be closed on Monday, July 3rd and Tuesday, July 4th in observance of Independence Day.

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    September 14, 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm