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Last updated: 27th January 2011

What is Forensic Science?

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What is Forensic Science?

Forensic Science is any science used for the purposes of the law, and therefore provides impartial scientific evidence for use in the courts of law, e.g. in a criminal investigation and trial. Forensic Science is a multidisciplinary subject, drawing principally from chemistry and biology, but also physics, geology, psychology, social science, etc.

In a typical criminal investigation crime scene investigators, sometimes known as scenes-of-crime-officers (SOCO's), will gather material evidence from the crime scene, victim and/or suspect. Forensic scientists will examine these materials to provide scientific evidence to assist in the investigation and court proceedings, and thus work closely with the police. Senior forensic scientists, who usually specialise in one or more of the key forensic disciplines, may be required to attend crime scenes or give evidence in court as impartial expert witnesses.

Examples of forensic science include the use of gas chromatography to identify seized drugs, DNA profiling to help identify a murder suspect from a bloodstain found at the crime scene, and laser Raman spectroscopy to identify microscopic paint fragments.


Why Study Forensic Science?

Forensic science is a subject that fascinates most of us. What makes forensic science so exciting to study is the nature of the problems to be solved, and this provides its own intrinsic rewards. Great emphasis is placed not only on developing the skills of forensic examination, but also on their application and on the communication of findings to the lay-person.

Forensic science is a rigorous scientific discipline, and as such its graduates are highly employable individuals possessing the knowledge and skills for both subject-related employment, such as in a forensic laboratory, or non-subject-related employment in a wider range of careers.


Forensic Science at Staffordshire University

Staffordshire University offers exciting opportunities for the study of forensic science leading to the award of BSc Honours Degree, either as a single subject or a joint subject. Our newly equipped analytical science laboratories, experienced and enthusiastic teaching team, and extensive learning support facilities provide for a stimulating and enjoyable study environment.


Did you know?

Did you know that over half of all £5 banknotes in the UK are estimated to be contaminated with detectable traces of cocaine?

This illustrates one of the key principles of forensic science; that every contact leaves a trace, hence minutes traces of cocaine are transferred from hand-to-banknote and from banknote-to-banknote and so on (the same principle enables forensic scientists to establish links between crime scenes and suspects).
Secondly it illustrates the phenomenal power of detection of modern techniques of chemical analysis. Gas Chromatography combined with Mass Spectroscopy (GM-MS), for example, can detect as little as 0.000000000001g (or a million-millionth of a gram!) of cocaine).

Did you know that cigarette butts and even sweet wrappers found at the scene of a crime can often provide invaluable forensic evidence?

The need for a cigarette or a piece of chewing gum, perhaps taken to help calm the nerves whilst involved in some stressful criminal activity, has proved the undoing of a number of individuals over the years. Criminals are often known to discard their cigarette butts , sweet wrappers or expired chewing gum at or near the crime scene before departing, whether though ignorance, arrogance or sheer carelessness. Cells from the saliva extracted from a cigarette butt or a piece of chewing gum can provide enough DNA to obtain a DNA profile of the individual, thereby linking them to the crime scene. Sticky sweet wrappers act as 'magnets' to hairs and fibres, and sometimes enable forensic scientists to match those found at the crime scene with those found on the suspect's person or clothing.

Did you know that bare footprints and palmprints are unique to the individual in just the same way as fingerprints are?

In Israel in 1968 failure to recognise this simple fact cost a young burglar a two-year prison sentence. Before entering the premises he had removed his shoes and socks, placing the socks over his hands so as not to leave any latent fingerprints at the scene. Instead he left a nice clear set of incriminating latent footprints!

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