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Forensic science is a broad discipline divided into numerous subfields, all of which work together to collect, prepare, analyze and present scientific evidence in criminal investigations. Forensic scientists use various techniques to accurately recreate and establish the order of events that led to a crime. The physical evidence, meticulously gathered through applying the scientific method, is then used in the court of law to prove someone's innocence or guilt.
In these activities, students practise real-world application of scientific methods in the forensic field, and gain an appreciation of the use of science in both the field and the laboratory to solve crimes.
Crime Fighters: Introduction & Case Book Template
Crime Fighters Station 1: Tool Mark Analysis
Crime Fighters, Station 2: Fingerprint Identification
Crime Fighters, Station 3: Handwriting Analysis
Crime Fighters, Station 4: Hair Sample Analysis
Crime Fighters, Station 5: Shoeprint Identification
In recent years, forensic science has been popularized through television and pop culture in general. While this has promoted forensics to the general public, it has also perpetuated the “CSI effect”— that is, misconceptions and exaggerated expectations of the applications of forensic science. T.V. shows usually portray one or two detectives solving a mystery within an hour, but in reality, forensic science involves painstaking collaborative efforts by all levels of law enforcement.
The evolution and development of forensic science dates as far back as 250 C.E. when Greek physician Erasistratus employed the first lie-detector test by studying the rhythm of someone's pulse. In the early 1900s, Dr. Edmond Locard was one of the first to propose the concept that "every contact leaves a trace". This simple yet crucial concept is the very basis of forensic science. It means that in every crime, a criminal will always leave behind a trace, and the job of forensic scientists and law enforcement officials is to reveal that trace.
In the 1970s and 1980s, new techniques enabled scientists and other crime fighters to more effectively compile evidence and reconstruct events in the pursuit of justice. Perhaps the greatest development in forensic science came in 1984, when DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) profiling was made possible through the work of Sir Alec Jeffreys. As a result of a process known as DNA fingerprinting, thousands of cold cases (cases that have "gone cold" due to lack of new evidence or technology) have been reopened and eventually solved.
Techniques continue to be developed and refined, and the field of forensics has branched out into various fields of expertise. The overlying goal and intent, however, remains the same—to solve crime through scientific analysis of the evidence.
Such specialties within the field of forensic science include, but are not limited to, the following:
The use of detailed knowledge of anatomy to aid in the identification of skeletal remains and their cause of death, as well as the recovery of remains using archaeological techniques.
The application of chemistry to identify the nature and composition of a substance or material.
The investigation of computer and other digital evidence. It can be used, for example, to investigate whether image or audio files have been altered or deleted.
The identification of DNA from bodily evidence found in criminal cases.
Forensic Dentistry/Forensic Odontology
This subfield includes the identification of bite marks, of unknown bodies through dental records, and estimation of the age of skeletal remains.
The identification of forgeries and/or the establishment of the authenticity of documents in dispute. This can include handwriting analysis, or expertise on materials and machines used for printing.
The usage of physical science to discover how events or accidents occurred.
The legal application of the study of insects. In some cases of suspicious death, the length of time that insects have colonized the remains is useful in helping to determine the time of death.
Fingerprint Identification and Analysis
The study of fingerprint patterns and characteristics in order to identify people.
Firearms and Ballistics
The analysis of firearms and bullets found at crime scenes.
The use of expertise in injury interpretation to establish the medical facts in criminal law cases.
An important subfield covering a range of forensic factors, such as determination of criminal responsibility (i.e. insanity) and competency to stand trial, expert opinion/testimony on questions of a psychological nature, explaining the effects of psychological conditions and illness, and preparing profiles of various types of offenders (e.g. sexual offenders, arsonists, etc.).
This requires lifting an impression left behind at the crime scene, such as a tire tread mark, foot/shoe print, traces of a key in a lock, or marks left behind by a tool. The extracted evidence can be used to identify the manufacturer, make or model of the car or shoe, identify a tool and how it was used, or determine what key has been in a certain lock.
The study of the adverse effects of chemicals on the human body, such as measuring the level of alcohol, drugs or poisons in the blood or hair.
black light: A lamp that emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is in the long-wave range and emits little visible light.
chromatography: A laboratory technique for the separation of mixtures, like the ink mixture in a felt pen.
cryptology: The science of secure communication (often coding patterns).
cyanoacrylate (superglue) fuming: A technique to uncover latent fingerprints as a result of heating cyanoacrylate, a type of superglue, to produce a gas that adheres to the sweat lift behind by a fingerprint.
dactyloscopy: Fingerprint identification based on comparing and classifying the unique patterns of individual fingerprints.
fluorescence: The emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation. This is a form of luminescence.
forensic science: The application of science to law. There are many subfields of forensic science but all aim to find out facts about a criminal case through the application of scientific analysis.
friction ridges: The raised portions of the skin on fingers and toes, the palm of the hand and the sole of the foot. The pattern of friction ridges on our fingers is what creates fingerprints.
impression evidence: A cast created when an object is pressed into a material with enough force to make an impression of the object. Tire tracks and footprints are examples of this type of evidence.
latent: Present but not visible or otherwise "active".
Locard’s exchange principle: "With contact between two items, there will be an exchange". This basic law of forensic science assumes that perpetrators of crimes will always leave behind evidence of themselves at the scene, as well as take something with them that can also be seen and used as evidence.
phosphor: A substance that glows.
pigment: A substance that changes the colour of reflected or otherwise transmitted light, as the result of wavelength-selective absorption. For example, we see blue pigment as blue because it reflects blue light back to our eyes.
trace evidence: Any material left at a crime scene, resulting from contact between two surfaces (e.g. shoes and soil, hair and a couch).
Wikipedia | Forensic science
University of Toronto: Mississauga | Bachelor of Science Programs | Forensic Science
Canadian Society of Forensic Science | CSFS Journal
Science Kids | Science Facts | Forensic Science Facts
ForensicScience.org | Resources (sidebar)
Wikipedia | Wink murder
Wikipedia | Black light
HowStuffWorks | How Black Light Works
About.com | About Education | Chemistry | What Materials Glow Under a Black or Ultraviolet Light?
Virtual Museum of Canada | Game | Interactive Investigator
HubPages: Lela Davidson | Education and Science | Fingerprint Science Projects for Kids
Education.com | Activities | CSI Science: Get the Prints!
Wikipedia | Fingerprint
eHow | About Science Activities for Kids
Adventures of Cyberbee | Whodunnit? | Fingerprinting
POLICE Magazine - Law Enforcement Magazine | Featured Articles | How to Lift Fingerprints
Northeastern University | College of Computer and Information Science | Eric W. Brown | The Cyanoacrylate Fuming Method
PBS Kids | ZOOM | Science Rocks! | Paper Towel Chromatography
Home Science Tools | Projects | Forensic Science Experiments
Crime Scene Investigator Network | Articles | Mike Byrd | Other Impression Evidence
HowStuffWorks | How Impression Evidence Works
HobbyHub360 | Kids' Crafts | Simple Sand Casting Projects
HowStuffWorks | How Crime Scene Investigation Works
The Science Spot | PowerPoint | "Impressive" Evidence
Instructables | Superglue Fingerprint Fuming
Chemistry Explained: Foundations and Applications | Forensic Chemistry
Science World Resources | Big Science For Little Hands | Resource Packages | Super Sleuths
Science World Resources | Full lesson & activities | Glow Crazy
British Columbia Institute of Technology | Forensics | Gail S. Anderson, M.P.M., Ph.D. | All You Ever Wanted to Know about Forensic Science in Canada but Didn't Know who to Ask!
YouTube | High School eLearning | Forensic Science Timeline
Rice University | CSI: The Experience | Web Adventures
DiscoveryID | Games & Interactives
Glasgow Science Centre | Science Learning Online | Forensic Science
PBS NOVA | Teacher Resources | Create a DNA Fingerprint
Adventures of Cyberbee | Whodunnit | Crime Scene: The Case of the Barefoot Burglar
Federal Bureau of Investigation | Kids | How We Investigate
Science Experiments | The Chromatography Detectives
Fin, Fur and Feather Bureau of Investigation | Games | Perp Walk
Virtual Museum of Canada | SFU Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology | Investigating Forensics