Most science classes include instruction in scientific methodology and discussion of the advantages this system of problem solving presents. However, it can be a challenge to keep this topic fresh and relevant. In Chemistry, our class has tackled scientific methodology from the ghoulish and fascinating perspective of toxicology.
We began this unit by learning about the history of forensic toxicology in New York City. Through the excellent PBS documentary, The Poisoner’s Handbook, we heard the story of the rise of chemical use in everyday society in the early 1900’s, and the explosion of accidental and intentional poisoning deaths. The heroes of this story are an incorruptible medical examiner and a scientifically trained chemical toxicologist. Their scientific methods led the way for forensic science.
In our lab, we endeavored to replicate these pioneered methods and the spirit of scientific investigation . Students tried their hand at testing for cyanide in autopsy tissue, analyzing blood samples for carbon monoxide poisoning, and identifying unknown powder samples collected from suspects. This unit on poisons allowed the Chemistry class to execute correct laboratory safety, exercise their scientific observation skills, and practice scientific methodology. While our analyses didn’t use real hazardous materials, the skills students practiced were true to scientific laboratories!