Forensic science is a way to use science to help the law and fight crime. Forensic science uses the application of scientific methods to help ensure a lack of bias in a legal case, as people’s lives depend on it. There are many types of forensic science, including its subtypes and also many forensic analysis techniques. Television and movies portray very exciting lives for forensic experts; however, the real story is one of extremely careful attention to detail, preserving evidence and being able to communicate well in a court of law.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Forensics refers to the use of science to help the law and fight crime. Many forensics techniques are available, including preservation of a crime scene, trace evidence, toxicology, chain of custody and various other forensic scientific techniques to aid in the process.
What Is Forensic Data Analysis?
Forensic data analysis means scientific data analysis used for legal disputes. Using forensic data analysis ensures that legal disputes can be resolved by an unbiased, scientific methodology. This in turn helps enforcement of laws and regulations and aids public health.
What Are the Different Types of Forensic Science?
Several types of forensic science exist. Each one specializes in a unique area to aid in solving crimes or legal disputes. Some of these fields also overlap. These different types of forensic science are needed because all crimes are different in specific ways. All types of forensic science adhere to the scientific method and evidence protection. Agains, this ensures a lack of bias and provides clean data for a legal or criminal investigation.
A criminalist is a type of forensic scientist who can reconstruct the timeline of a committed crime. Criminalists use many types of evidence in their work such as body fluids, blood splatter patterns, fingerprints and more. Even the tiniest bit of trace evidence yields tremendous information for a criminalist to reconstruct events leading to a crime.
Forensic anthropology and forensic dentistry are types of forensic analysis that go hand in hand to help identify remains. Forensic anthropology is a type of forensic science that specifically studies human remains by examining bones and other hard tissue. Forensic anthropologists can find out a great deal of information from skeletons, such as age, gender, injury type and more. Forensic anthropologists can discern the potential cause of death and when it occurred by carefully excavating remains and recording their data. The age of the person can be determined by looking at the size of bones. Finding abnormalities can reveal any diseases the victim may have had. The kind of damage made to bones also helps forensic analysis regarding what kind of weapon might have been used against a victim. Forensic anthropologists use X-rays, CT scans, photography and microscopy to discover more data about human remains. This can help match or rule out relatives or missing people and victims. Forensic anthropologists use their background of studying people and societies to help describe the story behind the crime or disaster scene.
Did you know dentists can help solve crimes? Forensic dentistry or forensic odontology involves looking at teeth as a form of remains. Both bones and teeth are hard and last longer than other kinds of remains in certain situations such as fires and mass casualties. With teeth, forensic dentists can look through dental records and help to identify a victim when it might not otherwise be possible to do so. Forensic dentists can also learn a great deal about age and ancestry from teeth. Teeth bear important information based on their shape, what kind of dental work the person might have had and even the diet of the person they belonged to. They can also aid in facial reconstruction to help identify remains.
Forensic pathology is one of the types of forensic science used in determining the cause of death in a victim. These forensic pathologists may perform autopsies on victims (called post-mortem exams) to determine the cause of death. They can study medical charts to glean any insight into a victim’s health and to rule out accidents and disease. Forensic pathologists study human remains and may recover additional evidence to help solve a crime or cause of death, such as any ballistic material in the victim’s tissue. Bullets and other types of weapons leave specific kinds of wounds, and a forensic pathologist can make a judgment call on this.
Molecular biologists aid forensic data analysis as well. They use genetic material called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from collected samples to aid in identification of suspects for several kinds of crime. The importance of molecular biology as a type of forensic science cannot be overstated. Sometimes even the smallest sample of evidence can yield extraordinary results. Molecular biologists therefore are incredibly important to modern crime solving.
One type of forensic science is forensic toxicology. This involves analyzing biological samples to look for poisons or drugs. Toxicologists work to determine what kind of substance, whether legal or illegal, may have been involved in a crime. They study the way the substance metabolized in an individual, which helps to determine any toxins or poisons that may have been ingested. Not only can forensic scientists find out what type of substance was used, they can determine whether the amount of it in a sample indicates misuse. A good example of the use of forensic toxicology would be testing a driving accident suspect’s blood for drugs or alcohol content. This would in turn help to shed light on whether the driver caused an accident because of a certain level of mind-altering substances in the body. Because new drugs are constantly being made, forensic toxicologists must stay up to date on their knowledge of toxins and drugs, whether illicit or prescription.
Another type of forensic science is forensic chemistry, which involves using trace materials, drugs and other materials to help solve crimes. Forensic chemists help analyze crime scene evidence using chemistry, materials science and biology to analyze samples. They may use ultraviolet or infrared light, X-ray spectroscopy, gas or other types of chromatography, and mass spectrometry as tools in their work. Forensic chemists must take great care with their samples and their analytical instruments to maintain the integrity of their testing. Forensic chemists can use these chemical tests to help solve crimes.
If you love problem solving on computers, you might find digital forensics very interesting. Digital forensics is another type of forensic science in which experts help in solving crimes, fraud and counterintelligence. A digital forensic expert investigates crimes by using computers and the Internet. They search computer data for evidence of cyber attacks, such as network or password attacks, client attacks and threats to digital infrastructure. Digital forensics experts must be able to work with various kinds of computing hardware and software, be able to preserve and back up evidence, and be able to find relevant files of interest. They can also analyze any data to determine trends. These experts require intensive backgrounds in computer science and must draw upon their ability to program as well as to manipulate physical computers. With computer and Internet usage only increasing, and subsequent attacks increasing as well, digital forensics has become a valuable tool in modern crime solving.
What Is Forensic Science Used For?
Forensic science is used for helping investigators solve cases. These cases can be either civil or criminal in nature. For criminal justice, forensic science gives invaluable, unbiased information from crime scenes. Several sciences can be applied for different cases, including biology, chemistry, physics, engineering and computer science.
Forensic science can be used for identifying DNA from samples collected from the scene of a crime. Sources of DNA might include hair, sweat, tissue, vomit, feces, fingernail clippings or scrapings, saliva and other body fluids. Even just a few cells can provide a DNA profile that could be used to identify or exonerate suspects in a crime. This type of evidence is called biological evidence. All evidence from a crime scene must be carefully preserved and stored. This is even more important for DNA, which can degrade if exposed to sunlight or if it is not kept cold, and could be easily contaminated if not stored properly. DNA can also be used to connect victims to any relatives.
Forensic science is also used for determining whether illegal or prescription drugs were related to a crime. Forensic scientists help determine the type of substance found at a crime scene. Forensic science helps determine methods, weapons, materials and other useful information to help solve crimes or legal disputes.
What Is the Meaning of Forensic Techniques?
Forensic analysis techniques to solve crimes consist of several steps to ensure any evidence collected from a crime scene is preserved and protected.
One important forensic technique is to protect a crime scene. Taking great care to prevent any contamination of a crime scene is absolutely essential. Investigators therefore should not eat, smoke or litter around a crime scene; any of these activities could ruin extremely important physical evidence. This is especially true for any biological evidence as DNA from biological samples is easily contaminated. Even recording whether the location of a crime is dry or wet matters for forensic analysis.
Preserving the chain of custody at the scene of a crime is another forensics technique. Everything must be documented from the crime scene, including who was present and who held any evidence. Recording data is also a crucial type of forensic analysis technique used to solve crimes.
Using impression and pattern evidence is a powerful forensic technique that aids in determining several crime scene potentialities. By using impression evidence, forensic scientists can determine the type of weapon that may have been used in a crime. Impression evidence refers to any impression that may be made on evidence, such as imprints on a used bullet. Pattern evidence gives data about something inside an impression. A good example of this would be a footprint that could lead to discovering what kind of shoe a suspect might have worn. Fingerprints can also be examined as a type of impression evidence. These kinds of evidence require highly specific measurements for proper analysis.
Trace evidence is another type of evidence used in forensic analysis techniques. Trace evidence refers to any items that can give information about the location of a crime scene, for a victim or a suspect. Trace evidence can be gathered from clothing fibers, residues, soil, hair and any other substance that might link suspects and victims.
Forensic scientists must use stringent scientific methods in their forensic analysis techniques for cases. They need to be able to collect, record, preserve, properly dispose of and communicate about evidence with extraordinary care so that it can have integrity when presented as evidence in a court of law. They need to have a good understanding of the law in addition to their scientific backgrounds. Forensic scientists also need to be able to communicate well. It is essential that forensic scientists be able to address a court of law and talk about their forensic techniques and test results in a way anyone can understand.
As technology improves, the tools used in forensics techniques should also improve. More sensitive equipment and better preservation and recording methods will aid the field of forensics in the future.
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences: What Is Forensic Science?
- National Institute of Justice: Forensic Sciences: What Is Forensic Science?
- National Institute of Justice: DNA Evidence: Basics of Identifying, Gathering and Transporting
- National Institute of Justice: Controlled Substances
- National Institute of Justice: Forensic Toxicology
- National Institute of Justice: Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry
- National Institute of Justice: Forensic Pathology Research and Development
- National Institute of Justice: Impression and Pattern Evidence
- National Institute of Justice: Trace Evidence
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: Forensic Anthropology
- John Jay College of Criminal Justice: About Forensic Science
- American Chemical Society: Forensic Chemistry
- NICCS: Digital Forensics
About the Author
J. Dianne Dotson is a science writer with a degree in zoology/ecology and evolutionary biology. She spent nine years working in laboratory and clinical research. A lifelong writer, Dianne is also a content manager and science fiction & fantasy novelist. Dianne features science as well as writing topics on her website, jdiannedotson.com.