How Does Fingerprint Powder Work?

Craig, C., Byrd, J. How does fingerprint powder work? Scientific American. September 2, 2002. Accessed November 11, 2019.




This article is a short, semi-formal description of what fingerprints are, how they transfer from humans hands to surfaces, and how fingerprint identification techniques are used to identify them. The article is published in a popular science magazine and its intended audience ranges from children to adults. The authors of the article are a forensic scientist employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia and a biology and forensic science assistant professor from VCU. The succinct description of the science of fingerprinting adds another dimension of forensic work to the text set.


While many of the words and word combinations in the article are new, I believe that students who are below 11th grade reading level could approach this text through inference. Some phrases like “friction ridges” and “mechanically adhering” can be broken down in groups or with the teacher to understand their meanings when they are not defined in the text. The article is only three paragraphs long, so time could allow for more discussion. Other than some scientific terms, I think the article is straightforward and does a good job of explaining the processes in a way that can be understood by readers on or above a 9th grade reading level regardless of interests. No images were provided.

Use in and outside of class

This text would function as supplemental to the student’s understanding of how forensic scientists use a variety of methods to isolate clues that will eventually help build a narrative of how a crime or death occurred. Students can record important details as they read in a jot chart, and then rewrite the article in their own words. It would be great to have one of the authors, since they are native Virginians, visit the class during this unit following the reading. This text’s purpose is not for instructing science content but for sparking curiosity and giving real world context to the unit.

Unit Focus


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