DNA Detective

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This activity is about collecting and analyzing DNA as part of a criminal investigation. Learners collect their own cheek cells, burst the cell membranes with detergent, and then precipitate DNA with ethanol (or another alcohol). Use this activity to introduce learners to DNA and forensic science. In the online version (see related resource), learners learn some DNA basics, investigate a crime scene, collect DNA samples from suspects, and analyze DNA in the virtual lab to identify the culprit. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on Archive.org. Activity write-up only, images are unavailable.]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Simulation


Materials List (per student)

  • water
  • a squirt of dishwashing liquid
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of ice cold ethanol or methylated spirits or rubbing alcohol (isopropanol)
  • two cups
  • a clear container with a lid
  • glass hook (or one made from a plastic twist-tie)


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Technology
      • Medical Technology
  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
    • Heredity and Genetics
      • DNA Structure and Function
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemistry of Life
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data

Informal Categories

  • Crime Science


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • use keyboard
  • use mouse
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • TryScience