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In this activity, learners examine fingerprints. Learners leave a hidden print on a surface and then make their own print detecting powder from graphite (found in pencils). The next phase of the activity focuses on how to isolate the fingerprints that we leave behind, and the best types of powder to use when looking for fingerprints. Extensions provided on pages 7 and 8 look at different surfaces, powders that are involved in taking fingerprints, and even catching a thief. Part of the 21-activity guide published by OMSI, No Hassle Messy Science with a Wow. All activities in this guide use household materials and all lesson plans include preparation directions, demonstrations, procedure sheets, cross-curricular connections, and scientific explanation of content.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan

English, Spanish

Materials List (per group of students)

  • mechanical pencil leads
  • clear tape
  • paper (notebook or printer )
  • sealing plastic bags (i.e.Ziplocâ„¢)
  • markers, pens, other hard cylinders
  • white paper (printer)
  • small paintbrushes (watercolor)
  • fingerprinting surfaces: glass and plexiglas work best; metal, magazine paper, shiny cardboard, plastic are also good


  • Life Sciences
    • Human Body
      • Muscles and Skin
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Touch
  • Physical Sciences
    • Electricity and Magnetism
      • Electric Charges and Currents
    • Chemistry
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Elementary Particles and Nuclear Physics

Informal Categories

  • Crime Science


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Foreign language versions of this resource:

Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry


  • All rights reserved, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, 2007

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation
  • Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation