Science has never been this bloody hot. Since the debut of CBS’ ”CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” academics nationwide have reported sharp spikes in enrollment in forensics classes. A rep for Manhattan’s Pace University credits the William Petersen-Marg Helgenberger hit as a ”major force” in its decision to add new undergraduate and grad-school degree programs in the field this fall. And it’s not just Pace: At Indiana’s Purdue University, Introduction to Forensic Science drew some 350 students this fall — three times more than the typical elective. At Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where dead pigs sub for human remains in mock investigations, the number of forensics majors has gone from 114 to 220 since spring. And the American Academy of Forensic Sciences’ Jim Hurley fields about 25 inquiries per week from people contemplating forensic careers — five times more than a year ago.
The phenom is not entirely new. ”Back in the ’70s, Quincy piqued a lot of people’s interest. Jack Klugman even came to one of our conferences,” recalls Hurley. ”But it’s been nothing like the interest in the past seven or eight months.” The reason? Cheri Stephens, a forensics teacher at Washington High School outside St. Louis, believes ”CSI” makes techies seem glamorous: ”The scientist is heroic, not some stereotypical geek in the back of the lab.”
Of course, the series has its critics, who complain that real cases involve throngs of specialists, not just the show’s small team. ”People have never seen a lot of the techniques and technology we use on the show,” responds show creator Anthony Zuiker, who is pleased that fans are being lured to study the discipline. Before long, he adds, students ”will learn that getting DNA evidence takes 8 to 10 days and criminal investigations aren’t wrapped up in 44 minutes.”