CSI: Miami? Maybe It Should Be GIS: Miami

Geographic information systems, or GIS, technology is a versatile approach to analysis that uses location as a way to bring together otherwise unconnected types of data. The result is deeper insights than otherwise possible.

Such terms as geographic and location bring to mind associations that can keep people from realizing just how versatile GIS is. But those who have advanced understanding of GIS, like someone with a geographic information systems degree, learn that location can mean many things.

For example, you might have heard that law enforcement increasingly uses GIS and predictive analysis to understand in advance where crimes might take place. Now there’s a new twist. Forensic scientists will eventually be able to use GIS software on human bones to solve murders.

GIS comes into play because each human bone is like a geographic region. Over time, bones develop physical micro patterns in response to the stresses a person faces in life, whether from activity, age, or other factors.

Researchers found that they could use ArcGIS, a popular type of GIS software, to analyze the micro patterns in a foot bone of a deceased person. Analysis can show the stresses the foot was under when the person walked while living. Such patterns can offer insight into someone’s height, weight, and age.

As researchers study more bones, they will develop the ability to associate certain types of micro patterns with the conditions that put stress on a foot. Those associations will one day help forensic scientists identify victims of violent crime by narrowing a search based on the life conditions.

In addition to finding identity, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that law enforcement scientists could potentially use such technology to see how an injury happened to the bones of a deceased person and answer such questions as to whether a death was intentional or accidental or what type of object might have struck a person.

Moving outside the television realm of CIS: Miami and Bones, there are other possible uses. Steel producers already use electron microscopes to examine the minute crystal structures of molten steel to better create new versions. Applying GIS might offer another tool for designing new types of the valuable metal, and perhaps other materials. Maybe GIS will become important to companies operating telecommunications networks or designers of semiconductors. The more broadly you conceive what location can mean, the more impact GIS can have on the world and how we do what we do.

Remember: location — it’s not just for maps anymore.

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