Month in STEM: October 2014

October is heading to close, and we’ve got you covered with the latest in STEM news for the month. We’re keeping things a little creepy to celebrate Halloween. From ghostly stars to creepy critters that help solve crimes, here are some of our top picks.

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

A new report recently came to light about the rapid evolution of a lizard species native to Florida in response to pressure from an invading Cuban species. Scientists have observed and documented this lizard species evolve in the relatively short span of 15 years and 20 generations.

After initial contact with the invasive species, native lizards, called Carolina anoles, began perching higher in trees. From one generation to another, their feet evolved to become better at gripping the thinner, smoother branches found in the higher parts of the trees. Now, their toe pads are larger and there are more sticky scales on their feet.

Researchers believe that the changes are a response to competition for food and living space. It’s also noted that both lizard species have been documented to eat the hatchlings of the other species. Thus, the ability to scale trees at a quicker pace may be the difference between getting to safety and becoming a meal. Read more here.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

New science suggests that if you’re a leatherback sea turtle, staying on the plump size may make it easier to get around the ocean. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have found that long and lean sea turtles are not as efficient swimmers as the ones that are more robust in size. To come to these conclusions, scientists measured the forces that act on a swimming animal and the energy that is expended by the animal to move through the water. After using their measurements and recreating an environment with virtual sea turtles and experimenting with different parameters, they found that rounder sea turtles are able to cover more ground while using up the same amount of energy as their skinnier counterparts. Read more here.

Forensics

We’re getting into the spirit of Halloween with this creepy video. Dead or alive, a body plays host to all sorts of organisms. There are innumerable types of flora that are naturally found on a person’s skin, as well as inside stomachs, noses, mouths and other body parts. But when a dead body begins to decompose, it also becomes a breeding ground for certain types of bugs that act as decomposers to return the body’s nutrients back to the earth. Knowledge of the life cycles of these bugs can help forensic scientists during crime scene investigation. Watch more here.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

Miniature human stomachs can now be grown in Petri dishes. By bathing stem cells in a concoction of chemicals that boost growth, scientists have managed to create clumps of gastric tissue the size of a pin head. Like normal human stomachs, the lab-grown stomach globs contain cells that are able to make mucus and pump hormones. Scientists are hoping to use the tissue to further study gastric diseases, such as stomach cancer. Read more here.

Robotics IconSpace

NASA’s Hubble Telescope has picked up the faint glow of stars that were ejected from ancient galaxies that were gravitationally wrenched apart several billion years ago. The “ghost lights” from the dead galaxies are no longer bound to any one galaxy. Instead, the stars drift freely between the nearly 500 galaxies in the cluster known as “Pandora’s Cluster”. By observing the light from the stray stars, scientists have gathered enough evidence to believe that as many as six galaxies were torn apart over the course of 6 billion years. Read more here.

Video Games IconTechnology

A team of scientists and engineers at the University of California recently created a new nanoparticle-based material that has the capacity to convert absorb and convert to heat more than 90% of the sunlight that it captures. It is also able to withstand temperatures of more than 700 degrees Celsius, and has the ability to withstand many years of outdoor exposure to air and humidity. In comparison, current solar absorbers have significantly shorter life spans, and are unable to function at higher temperatures. The type of energy that the material is harvesting is called concentrated solar power (CSP). The sun is still an emerging source of power, but it has a great deal of potential within the alternative energy market. CSP currently produces approximately 3.5 gigawatts worth of power at power plants around the globe, or the equivalent to the energy needed to power more than 2 million homes. Read more here.

Okay STEM lovers, what stories did you enjoy? What stories did we miss this month? We want to hear your thoughts!

CSI Day Camp Hits Long Beach, MS

On Thursday, October 16th, our STEM team hit the road and landed at Harper McCaughan Elementary School in Long Beach, MS to end our final Camp-for-a-Day with a bang!

This camp consisted of a fantastic group of 99 6th and 7th grade students from both Harper McCaughan Elementary School and Long Beach Middle School. These students gathered together to learn about the various scientific, technological, and mathematical skills that are utilized by CSI professionals.

After a brief introduction to the program, students were thrown into the throngs of a crime scene: a kidnapping had occurred and students were tasked with solving the mystery! Six middle school teachers helped guide the students through each step of the investigation. Throughout the day, students were given a rare glance into the world of CSI. Students were split up into three teams: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie. The teams were then steered through a series of activities involving paper chromatography, facial recognition, and fingerprint dusting, to narrow down their initial lineup to three suspects.

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Investigators narrowing down their suspects in the lineup.

Students enjoying a snack and learning about fingerprint patterns.

Our investigators were also treated to an exciting visit from the Keesler Air Force Base criminal investigation unit.

Students were pumped up by presenters from Keesler Air Force Base.

Crime scene suits provided by Keesler Air Force Base were a hot commodity.

Just when students thought they were about to finish up the case, another crime was committed. By utilizing the skills that they had learned throughout the day, the teams were able to determine that the two crimes were related and this helped them uncover the identity of the mysterious perpetrator!

We had such a fun time bringing our CSI Camp-for-a-Day program to another community and we are grateful for the equally enthusiastic participation from students, teachers, and school administrators. We want to give a special thanks to the 21 teachers who attended the teacher workshop the night before the event to learn the curriculum and take part in the camp. We are confident that this curriculum will continue to be shared and taught, and many other students will be able to learn how fun STEM can be for years to come!

Another Investigation Begins at the 2014 CSI Boys Summer Camp

Another week, another crime. Yesterday we welcomed boys from around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to our second, and final, CSI summer camp. In order to provide a real-world look into the lives and professions of those who work in CSI-related fields, campers were treated to a presentation by Dallas Police Department’s Sean Kearney. Kearney introduced campers to the types of skills and tasks required of crime scene investigators.

After Kearney’s presentation, the campers walked in on a ghastly sight… a kidnapping had occurred at camp! Though this was bad news, it gave the investigators-in-training an immediate chance to test their CSI skills. Campers documented the scene,

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collected evidence,

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and took measurements

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for a scaled sketch of the scene.

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After the scene was thoroughly processed, campers learned about DNA evidence through a presentation from Forensic Biologist Amanda Webb.

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Webb’s job as a forensic biologist requires her to process DNA evidence found at crime scenes. When asked what was the most unique object she’d ever had to test, she replied that “The craziest thing we had to test was a fried chicken leg with a big bite taken out after a crime was committed.” This goes to show that evidence can be everywhere!

Campers finished up their day learning all about change blindness, the phenomenon that explains why eyewitness testimony isn’t always the most reliable piece of evidence. And just so we don’t let the campers have all the fun, you can get in on the CSI action by watching the following videos. These videos will introduce you to the change blindness phenomenon and also allow you to test your observational skills.

This knowledge of change blindness came in handy when campers observed an interview with an eyewitness.

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And lastly, did we mention that the campers had fun? These students were introduced to a number of new friends, a fact that is sure to make this coming week a memorable one. Stay tuned throughout the week to follow their investigation!

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CSI Girls Camp – Day 2

Who says humans are the only ones that can get in on the CSI action? This morning, our CSI girls were joined by the furriest of this week’s presenters: K9 Rocky (and his handler Deputy Clayton Wood).

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K9s play a key role in many investigations, and Rocky had a chance to show off his tracking skills. 

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After the wonderful K9 unit presentation, the campers got straight to work processing their first piece of evidence: a fingerprint! To learn how to properly dust for and collect a fingerprint sample, the girls were joined by members of the SMU Police.

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Campers dusted,

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lifted,

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and analyzed the fingerprint found at the scene of yesterday’s kidnapping.

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Campers also had a chance to try their hand at a few biometrics activities before being joined by more professionals from the SMU Police Department and tactical unit. These professionals discussed what it’s like to be women in law enforcement

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and gave a real-world look into the day in the life of a SWAT team member.

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Tomorrow promises to be another fun-filled CSI day as the campers work to further narrow their list of suspects. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

SMU Kicks Off 2014 CSI Summer Camps – Girls Begin the Investigation

It’s that time of year again! Our new set of gumshoes arrived early this morning to kick off our 2014 CSI Summer Camps. Without missing a beat, campers were immediately acquainted with the world of CSI through a great presentation by Sean Kearney with the Dallas PD. Through this presentation, campers learned that there’s a lot of math and science involved in crime scene investigation. “In forensics we don’t ever guess,” explained Kearney, “we have to have hard evidence.”

Sean Kearney, Dallas PD, displays evidence to campers.

Sean Kearney, Dallas PD, displays evidence to campers.

What happened next was most unfortunate…photoA kidnapping occurred on campus! Good thing we have this team of CSI investigators-in-training to help solve the crime.

Each unit took turns examining the scene and taking notes,

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gathering evidence,

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and taking measurements for a scaled sketch.

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Then, after thoroughly processing the crime scene, campers were visited by Amanda Webb, a biologist with the Dallas County Crime Lab. Webb’s visit was all about DNA, and campers learned how DNA is used to investigate crimes.

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Campers finished up their day learning all about change blindness, the phenomenon that explains why eyewitness testimony isn’t always the most reliable piece of evidence. And just so we don’t let the campers have all the fun, you can get in on the CSI action by watching the following videos. These videos will introduce you to the change blindness phenomenon and also allow you to test your observational skills.

Stay tuned to keep apprised of all the latest developments of our CSI investigation!

May’s Maine Event: CSI Day Camp Travels to Kittery

We found ourselves once again on the road last week as we traveled to beautiful Kittery, Maine for our 7th CSI day camp at Shapleigh Middle School. By far our biggest traveling event to date, this day camp featured students from a variety of schools in the area, including Shapleigh Middle School, Rochester Middle School, Dover Middle School, and Portsmouth Middle School. Additionally, these students were accompanied by a variety of teachers, administrators, and board members from the area and graced with presentations by the Kittery Police Department, Maine State Police, Rochester Police Department, Wells Police Department, and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. We definitely had a full house in the best possible way.

The camp began with a warm welcome from a number of community members, including Shapleigh Middle School’s principal, Anne Ellis,
DSC_0005Kittery Police Department’s Police Chief Theodor Short,

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Captain William Greene, Commander of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,

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and Officer Jay Durgin—a K9 officer with the Kittery Police Department—and Detective Chris Farley—detective with the Maine State Police.

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After the group welcome, it was time to get to work! Campers returned to their classrooms to discover that there had been a kidnapping! There was only one thing to do: examine the crime scene and collect the evidence.

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One of the main pieces of evidence was a cup containing a fingerprint. To learn why fingerprints are a biometric unique to each individual, and to accurately dust for and lift the suspect’s fingerprint from the cup, campers received help from the Kittery Police Department.

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Students also got to get an up close and personal look at some of the vehicles that law enforcement professionals and investigators use to do their jobs.

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They also learned that crime scene investigation isn’t limited to us humans—K9s also play a large role in law enforcement and investigations.

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Then it was back to work, as the campers processed a note left at the scene using paper chromatography and zeroed in on the perpetrator using face recognition. Ultimately, the campers had a wonderful time, met some amazing professionals, and snuck some new science and technology skills into a really fun day.

We were so happy to bring our CSI Camp-for-a-Day program to the first northeastern community of the program. The people of Kittery and surrounding areas—students, teachers, professionals, and administrators—were wonderfully welcoming, and dove into this program with a wonderfully open and collaborative spirit. Additionally, the impact of the CSI Camp-for-a-Day was extended even further during the teacher workshop, which took place the night before the event. This workshop allowed us to share the full curriculum with teachers from all over the area so that they could, in turn, utilize these activities in their own classrooms for years to come.

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We would also like to send a special thanks to Maryann Minard, School Liaison Officer with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, for all of her hard work in bringing the people of this community together for this wonderfully successful event. For additional information about this event, or any of our CSI programs, please feel free to send us a note. And for those of you who participated in this event, we would love to hear your take on the day in our comments section!

 

 

 

On the road again: CSI day camp travels to San Antonio

So, our relative radio silence can be explained by the fact that CSI camp season is upon us once again. Thus, on Tuesday, May 6th, we found ourselves in sunny San Antonio, Texas for our CSI Camp-for-a-Day program. This event, which featured roughly 115 6th grade students and eight middle school teachers, was kicked off by a wonderfully engaging presentation by local Air Force forensic science agents. Our camp director, and CSI camp veteran teacher, Jennifer Makins introduced this presentation, which focused on the main skills required to become a forensic science agent.

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After getting acquainted with the world of a CSI agent, students traveled back to their units to discover that a kidnapping had occurred!

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At this point, it was up to the students to use their observational skills to identify the key pieces of evidence that would hopefully lead them to their perpetrator.

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The students were in luck, however, as the crime scene featured a cup containing the perpetrator’s fingerprint. It was then up to professionals from the Universal City Police Department to help the investigators extract the fingerprint through a fingerprint dusting activity,

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then learn how the features of the fingerprint could help identify that perpetrator. The students learned that the suspect’s fingerprint type was a loop, which ultimately helped them narrow their list of suspects.

Another key piece of evidence was found at the crime scene: a note written by the perpetrator. Campers then discovered how to determine which type of marker wrote the perpetrator’s note through a paper chromatography experiment. Since each suspect on the suspect list was found carrying a different type of marker, this activity ultimately allowed the campers to further zero in on their perpetrator.

After taking a short break to refuel (i.e. eat lunch), campers learned that humans aren’t the only ones to participate in CSI. Both human and K9 members of the Air Force K9 Unit joined the campers to discuss how humans and dogs collaborate to investigate many different situations.

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Campers loved the demonstration, and the dogs were in it for the snuggles.

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At that point in the day, the campers had narrowed their list of suspects to three. However, they were missing a vital piece of evidence that would point to their perpetrator. That’s when they learned that a second crime had happened, and the authorities thought that this second crime was related to the crime campers had been investigating all morning. And sure enough, this second crime provided an additional piece of evidence: an eyewitness sketch. To prepare for the possibility of an additional piece of evidence, students learned how the features of the face can be used in identification through a facial recognition activity.

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In this activity, students learned how to create ratios by measuring the distances between the features on a person’s face and how those ratios can be unique to each individual.

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Oh, and they had a little bit of fun, too.

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The last step was to determine whether or not the two crimes were in fact related to each other. To do this, campers looked at photos to see if the crimes looked alike

DSC_9919and examined the fingerprint type of the perpetrator of the second crime to see if it matched their fingerprint from the morning. After doing this, the campers did find these two crimes to be related, then used the suspect sketch from the second crime to determine whodunit!

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As always, we had a wonderful experience bringing our CSI Camp-for-a-Day program to a new community in the United States. The people of Kitty Hawk Middle School—students, teachers, and administrators alike—were some of the best we’ve worked with yet.. Additionally, the impact of the CSI Camp-for-a-Day was extended even further during the teacher workshop, which took place the night before the event. This workshop allowed us to share the full curriculum with teachers from all over the area so that they could, in turn, utilize these activities in their own classrooms for years to come.

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CSI Day Camp Travels to Virginia Beach

Last Tuesday, February 25th, our CSI Camp-for-a-Day program was back on the road as we traveled to Brandon Middle School in Virginia Beach, VA. Since we hadn’t been out and about since our Colorado Springs event in November, it was nice to get out and stretch our CSI legs yet again.

This event, which featured roughly 85 6th grade students and six middle school teachers, was kicked off by a wonderful presentation by the local branch of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS). These professionals introduced campers to the science, technology, engineering, and math skills required of CSI professionals,

DSC_0017DSC_0012DSC_0013and one camper even got to try his hand at swabbing an agent’s cheek for DNA.

DSC_0019After getting acquainted with the world of a CSI agent, students traveled back to their units to discover that a kidnapping had occurred! The crime scene featured evidence that the campers would use to narrow down their suspect list during the fingerprint dusting activity,

Forensic Technician Megan Watson of the Virginia Beach Police Department leads campers through the fingerprint dusting activity.

Forensic Technician Megan Watson of the Virginia Beach Police Department leads campers through the fingerprint dusting activity.

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the fingerprint sensor lab,

Students learn all about the different components used to analyze fingerprints in the Fingerprint Sensor Lab.

Students learn all about the different components used to analyze fingerprints in the Fingerprint Sensor Lab.

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and the paper chromatography activity.

Brandon Middle School teachers help students determine which marker wrote a note found at the crime scene in the paper chromatography activity.

Brandon Middle School teachers help students determine which marker wrote a note found at the crime scene in the paper chromatography activity.

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Additionally, two professionals from the Virginia Beach Police Department’s K9 Unit—officer Curila and Rudy—discussed what a day in the life of a K9 officer is really like, and gave the students tips on how to train for and pursue a career working with K9s.

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The fingerprint dusting, sensor, and paper chromatography activities helped students narrow their list of suspects from twelve people to three, and campers were finally able to hone in on the perpetrator during the Closing the Case activity.

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Once again, we had a wonderful experience bringing our CSI Camp-for-a-Day program to a new community in the United States. The people of Brandon Middle School—students, teachers, and administrators alike—really embraced this program with open arms, and dove right in to the project-based and inquiry-based curriculum. Additionally, the impact of the CSI Camp-for-a-Day was extended even further during the teacher workshop, which took place the night before the event. This workshop allowed us to share the full curriculum with teachers from all over the area so that they could, in turn, utilize these activities in their own classrooms for years to come.

Virginia Beach teachers dust for fingerprints at the teacher workshop.

Virginia Beach teachers dust for fingerprints at the teacher workshop.

DSC_0072While those of you who frequent this blog are likely familiar with the structure of our CSI camp programs, we often don’t stress the impact these programs have on communities all across the US. By involving local teachers in this program, we can extend the use of this curriculum far beyond just the students who attend our one-day event. The major goal of this traveling program is to extend the reach of our CSI summer camp program nationally. We project that our traveling camps-for-a-day will have the opportunity to reach roughly 45,360 students throughout the duration of the program, assuming each teacher uses the curriculum with 5 classes of 18 students per year. In this way, we are able to further accomplish our overall mission to increase the number and diversity of students interested in pursuing STEM education and careers.

Why we do what we do (and how we’re bridging the gap between our programs)

ThNKYOU

I wanted to start this post by thanking all of you who are taking the time out of your busy lives to check out our blog. On Friday, we officially hit the 6 month mark for this blog and were excited to surpass 5,000 visits to this site in that period. We are honored to be a part of such an incredible community and look forward to continuing sharing the STEM content, ideas, and stories that intrigue us. I hope that our blogs amuse, inform, and even sometimes challenge you and the way you think about and advocate STEM. We always welcome your thoughts and insight so please send us a note or comment on our posts to engage in this important conversation!

This week we hit the road to visit old and new friends in Colorado to host a CSI Teacher Workshop and CSI Camp-for-a-Day and thought it would be a great time to explain a little more about why we do the things we do and how our various efforts are more connected than they may seem at first glance.

We mentioned that our team works & lives all over the country, right?

We mentioned that our team works & lives all over the country, right?

As you may (or more likely not) have noticed, we have two distinct sets of programs within our STEM portfolio: our STEM websites (KidsAhead & STEM-Works) and our CSI camps (Summer camps, camps-for-a-day, and teacher workshops). The websites are the internationally-reaching arms of our portfolio and aim to provide students and advocates around the world with engaging STEM content from around the Internet. Since we pull quality STEM content from around the Internet, as well as add our own novel content, these sites are a great place to find all kinds of materials to advocate STEM (and in the case of KidsAhead, it’s a great place to have your students check out for content that interests them).

On the other side of the portfolio, we have our CSI Camps. This includes three different programs:

  • CSI Summer Camps: offered in Dallas, TX and include a full week of hands-on activities and engaging presentations from real world forensic scientists and law enforcement officials
  • CSI Camps-for-a-Day: a condensed version of our summer camps offered over the course of one day in military-connected communities (we’re headed to Colorado Springs now to meet our next group of teachers and students!)
  • CSI Teacher Workshop: a program geared toward teaching our SMU CSI curriculum to teachers and providing them with resources to successfully utilize this curriculum in their classrooms and communities

So, now that you have a basic overview of the work that we do, and in honor of our CSI events in Colorado this week, we decided to launch a special edition of our bi-monthly scavenger hunts on KidsAhead to bridge the divide between our websites and CSI programs. This scavenger hunt, which was launched yesterday, invites you to take part in the fun and help to solve a mock crime that is related to the one that was investigated this week at our CSI Camp-for-a-Day. For more information about this “Closing the Case” scavenger hunt please visit http://bit.ly/HAoSZS. Try this challenge out and when you complete it and identify the perpetrator share your findings with us here !