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.
- The World of Forensic Laboratory Testing: This article answers the question, "What is forensic laboratory testing?"
- DNA Extraction: Extract human DNA and learn how to analyze it in the University of Utah's virtual laboratory.
- Forensics, DNA, and CODIS: Here, you can learn about DNA profiling and the FBI's DNA database, CODIS.
- Create a DNA Fingerprint: PBS's website lets you create a DNA fingerprint and use it to solve a crime.
- How DNA Evidence Works: Catching a criminal using DNA evidence is not quite as easy as CSI makes it seem, as this article demonstrates.
- DNA Testing: An Introduction for Non-Scientists: The illustrated explanation of DNA testing here is intended as an introduction to the subject for those who may have a limited background in biological science.
- Blood Typing: With a vast number of possible antigens and antigen combinations, your blood could be as unique as your fingerprint.
- The Society of Toxicology: Find a wealth of information for students interested in learning more about a career in toxicology.
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.
- Virtual Autopsy: Use case history and autopsy reports to try to correctly determine the cause of death.
- Visible Proofs: Could X-Rays Have Saved President McKinley? This comprehensive site examines famous deaths through the lens of forensic science and provides information on forensic technologies.
- Bodies and Bones: Try out this online tutorial covering aspects of forensic anthropology, from the crime scene to the laboratory.
- Get Body Smart: Human Skeleton: Get Body Smart presents a thorough, visual look at the human skeleton.
- Forensic Entomology: Insect presence can yield many clues to both antemortem and postmortem circumstances of a crime.
- Forensic Artistry: Read a comprehensive overview of many different aspects of criminal art.
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.
- Interactive Investigators: Here, you can learn about a number of forensic disciplines while trying to solve a murder.
- CSI: Web Adventures : Work alongside the crime-solvers from the popular TV show in five different cases.
- The Case of the Barefoot Burglar: Try your hand at solving Cyberbee's Case of the Barefoot Burglar.
- Investigating Forensics: This SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology interactive site on forensic science allows you to work on a realistic case to solve the crime.
- The Blood-Typing Game: Learn about blood-typing on the Nobel Prize's website.