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As a result, its 694 staff handled 136,629 pieces of evidence and performed nearly 700,000 examinations in 1996. Nowhere more so than in the heart of the FBI lab, the Scientific Analysis Section.

As an examiner here, you never know what you are going to get -- it could be a rape one day, an explosion the next, and a product- tampering case the day after that.

"Here you might start work on the case of a lifetime any day, anytime," says one employee. As well as its own cases -- federal crime or crime that involves more than one state -- the FBI lab takes work from state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies across the nation.

Forensic science is now genetics and microbiology in DNA typing, nuclear physics in neutron activation analysis, analytical chemistry in infrared, ultra-violet or X-ray spectrometry and statistics in computerized number crunching.

These new technologies have in many cases been grafted onto a profession that in many of its traditional sub-fields, like fingerprints, questioned documents, ballistics, hair and fibers, explosives, was not actually based on science at all but on subjective comparisons by individual examiners.

The aging or reconstruction of faces of suspects or victims and the reconstruction of crime scenes is a specialty.

This section also prepares all forms of graphics or film used as exhibits at trial and the false credentials or documentation needed by FBI agents or informants for undercover work.Here too is the Evidence Control Center, responsible for the receipt, assignment, and tracking of thousands of lab samples subjected to hundreds of thousands of examinations every year.Finally, practicing one of the oldest and best-known disciplines of forensic science, there is the FBI lab's Latent Fingerprint Section.Only if photos, tapes or handwritten notes come in as part of the evidence do such people have the faces, voices, or hands that make them real.What the tourists see is actually just a fraction of what makes up the FBI's Laboratory Division.Today, this section includes the specialist polygraph or "lie detector" unit, a computer analysis unit, a special photographic unit and specialists in analyzing racketeering records -- illegal gambling, prostitution, loan-sharking, and money-laundering.

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