Under the Magnifying Glass: Forensic Science
Forensic science has come a long way from Sherlock Holmes, who solved crimes with not much more than a magnifying glass and the power of deduction. Forensics, or the application of science to establish facts during a criminal or civil investigation, is a field that is constantly growing and evolving as more technologies and techniques are discovered. It is an important part of the criminal justice system, involving the collection of evidence from a crime scene, analysis of that evidence in a laboratory, and finally the presentation of those findings during court proceedings.
The label "forensic science" doesn't apply to one specific job but a wide range of specialties and disciplines, leading to many possibilities for those looking to pursue a career in this field. For many who were introduced to forensics through television, a crime scene investigator or a forensic science technician at work in a lab might be the first options that come to mind. Forensic pathology and anthropology focus on the information that can collected from the body of the deceased and its surroundings, while digital forensics experts, document examiners, artists, and even forensic accountants tackle the less grisly, but equally important, side of investigations. These are only a few of the many specialties that fall under the umbrella of forensic science, working together to solves crimes and bring the truth to light.
At the Crime Scene
Perhaps the most well-known forensic scientists are those involved in crime scene investigation. Though hardly as high-action as it's often represented on screen, this branch is concerned mostly with the physical sciences, which include fingerprinting, ballistics and firearms, accident reconstruction, bloodstain pattern analysis, and the collection of trace evidence.
- Recording Legible Fingerprints: Find the FBI's guide to taking high-quality fingerprints and learn about their techniques here.
- Latent Fingerprint Examination: Experienced forensic scientist Ed German provides this website on fingerprinting.
- Fundamentals of Firearms ID: This website has extensive information on forensic firearm identification and interactive activities available.
- Bumper Car Physics: You can use Newton's laws of motion to learn how to predict the outcome of bumper car collisions, and this approach is also useful in accident reconstruction.
- Bloodstain Tutorial: Here, you can learn what the pattern, size, shape, and location of bloodstains tell us and then put your knowledge to the test.
- Bloodstain Pattern Analysis: Learn the basics of bloodstain pattern analysis in this article.
- A Simplified Guide to Trace Evidence: This guide provides a comprehensive look at trace evidence and how to collect and test it.
- Trace Evidence: This Cornell resource covers how fibers and hair are used to aid in crime-solving.
In the Lab
Other forensic scientists prefer to focus on the biological and life sciences, usually in a laboratory or similar setting. They can be seen running tests, looking through the glass of a microscope at the evidence brought back from the scene, and using the tiniest of clues to piece together facts that can later be used in court.
In the Morgue
In criminal investigations that involve a homicide, the victim's body is an important source of information. Medical examiners, or forensic pathologists, perform autopsies to establish the cause and time of death, collecting trace evidence and taking blood samples to be sent to forensic toxicologists to be tested. Forensic anthropologists are often called upon for cold cases and especially grisly crimes to analyze skeletal remains. This is one place where forensic art comes into play, as these artists can use the skull to reconstruct and create a rendering of the victim's face as accurately as possible.
Technology is becoming more and more integral in forensics, both as a tool to aid in solving more traditional crimes and as cybercrime becomes more prevalent.
- Digital Evidence and Forensics: The National Institute of Justice provides information on digital investigation techniques and tools, including mobile device forensics.
- Cybercrime: Learn how Interpol works to prevent and investigate cybercrime.