A Student's Guide to Forensic Science

Forensic science is the application of scientific methods to crime-solving. The discipline involves many concepts and techniques from the natural sciences, from biological methods to analytical chemistry. Those who study in this field as part of their higher education will learn about trace evidence, toxicology, and DNA as part of their coursework.

Forensic scientists usually specialize in an area of the field and are divided into three primary groups: forensic pathologists, forensic scientists, and associated scientists. Forensic pathologists are professionals who oversee clinical forensic examinations such as autopsies. Forensic scientists work in law enforcement or government and deal with tests in the realms of toxicology, trace evidence, and ballistics. Associated scientists are professionals who use their expertise and education to add to the field. They include forensic botanists, forensic anthropologists, and forensic odontologists. They provide information and analysis to assist with investigations.

Within the three primary divisions of forensic science are a multitude of specialties. The work of these specialists overlaps the fields of forensic science and criminal justice. Once such specialty is blood pattern analysis. Blood behaves in accordance with scientific principles, and the patterns that blood makes can tell the story of a crime. The scientist who studies these patterns at a crime scene is called a blood stain pattern analyst. A blood stain pattern analyst collects blood when it is part of the physical evidence of a crime. They examine the characteristics of the blood, such as the shape of the blood pools and drops. From their examination, blood stain pattern analysts can determine the type of weapon used, the direction of travel of the people involved, and the sequence of events of the crime.

Blood stain analysts typically work in large cities for police departments or crime laboratories. Less often, they work in the private sector as a consultant or as an expert witness in court cases.

Forensic ballistic experts are the scientists called upon when crime investigators need to learn about a firearm used in the commission of a crime. The work of these experts can determine what type of firearm was used as well as the trajectory of a bullet. They are also often involved in crime scene mapping. With the help of computer programs, they can find out even more detailed information about the guns used in a crime and the bullets that came out of it. Ballistics experts may also be asked to collect fingerprints or DNA evidence from shell casings.

DNA analysis has assumed a prominent position in forensic science and criminal justice. DNA is deoxyribonucleic acid. It contains the genetic coding that is unique to each individual human being. DNA can be found in saliva, blood, sweat, skin, and other biological substances. DNA analysts gather DNA evidence from a variety of sources, such as clothing, weapons, or any other surface a person has had contact with. It’s more accurate than fingerprinting or any other means of identification. A DNA analyst is a scientist who can compare the DNA taken from a crime scene or victim to that of a suspect to determine whether they were present at the scene and/or involved in the crime. DNA is now a crucial tool for the identification or elimination of suspects. It has been used to convict and also to exonerate those who have been wrongly accused.

Establishing a career in forensic science takes a great deal of specialized education. Even while you’re still in high school studying math, health, and other subjects, you can be learning about different elements of forensic science. Reading articles and trying out experiments and games can help anyone of almost any age learn about the exciting world of forensic science.