Museum of Science, Boston

Fingerprint Detectives at Different Ages

Books for Kids

  • Dusted and Busted: The Science of Fingerprinting
    , by
    D. B. Beres
  • Eyewitness Crime & Detection
    , by
    Brian Lane (DK Books)

Contact Us

Contact the Discovery Center and Living Lab staff at livinglab@mos.org

June 2011: Fingerprint Detectives

Fingerprint Detectives

Today’s media is packed with crime dramas depicting forensic scientists examining evidence collected at crime scenes. To give children an experience with collecting and analyzing evidence, the Discovery Center developed the Fingerprint Detectives activity, where children learn how to collect their own fingerprints, use tools (i.e. magnifying glass or microscope) and examine their own fingerprints as well as the fingerprints of others.

Using a forensic fingerprint guide, children compare the shapes and patterns found in their fingerprints to common fingerprint patterns. Children are encouraged to use the scientific method to learn more about their fingerprints. They can make a hypothesis (“Are all of my fingerprints the same or different?”) and test it out in a controlled experiment. Children and their families can do multiple experiments and examine the unique properties that fingerprints have!

Fingerprint Detectives at Home

You can continue your Fingerprint explorations at home by

Taking Your Fingerprints at Home

Fingerprints are made of lots of small ridges of skin. There are several basic "patterns" a fingerprint can have. When observed quickly, some of your prints may look the same as a friends' fingerprints, but when observed very closely, the patterns found on fingerprints are unique to one person only.

Materials List

  • White Index Cards or Paper
  • Charcoal bricks or a charcoal pencil
  • Clear tape
  • Magnifying Lenses
  • Fingerprint pattern charts (available online, or pick up a copy in the Discovery Center)
  • Taking your fingerprints!

    1. Gather all of your materials together.

    2. Rub your finger on some charcoal so there is a light layer of black covering your finger - an easy way to do this is to scribble on a piece of paper with the charcoal, and then run rub your finger across the paper. (Note: If you have too much charcoal on your finger, you will not be able to see your fingerprint!)

    3. Take a piece of clear tape, and press your charcoaled finger on the sticky side.

    4. Remove the tape, and stick it to a piece of white paper or an index card to reveal your fingerprint!

    Exploring Forensic Science!

    A ‘forensic scientist’, a scientist who helps solve crimes, analyzes evidence collected at a crime scene and works to discover clues left behind by a perpetrator. A forensic scientist’s main job is to make connections and compare evidence from the crime scene.

    There are many types of evidence a forensic scientist looks at, including hair, clothing fibers, and fingerprints to try to identify the perpetrator. When a forensic scientist finds a fingerprint at a crime scene, they quickly identify the fingerprint's patterns and characteristics, and compare this to fingerprints they take from suspects. Fingerprinting is a great way for forensic scientists to identify a person because everyone’s fingerprints are unique and one of a kind. The fingerprints may have similar patterns, but if you look at them closely under a microscope you will see that there are subtle differences that distinguish one person’s fingerprints from another.

    Questions to think about?

  • What do you see in your fingerprints? Are there any patterns?
  • What do you notice when you look at your fingerprint through a magnifying glass?
  • Are the prints on all of your fingers the same?
  • Are you fingerprints the same as a friend or another person in your family?
  • If you have a twin, are your fingerprints the same?
  • Do you have prints anywhere else on your body?