Q. What is Forensic Science?

A. Forensic science, by definition, is the application of science to those criminal and civil laws that are enforced by police agencies in a criminal justice system [1]. Forensic science originates from the individuals who developed the principles and techniques needed to identify or compare physical evidence, and from those who recognized the necessity of merging these principles into a coherent discipline that could be practically applied to a criminal justice system. There are many disciplines and career paths within forensic science. (Click here to see UNT Forensic Program & In India: )

Q. What does a forensic scientist do?

A. Forensic scientists work in crime laboratories as forensic chemist and biologist. Their jobs may include the following aspects [1]:

  • apply principles and techniques of the physical and natural sciences to the analysis of the many type of evidence that may be recovered during a criminal investigation
  • provide expert court testimony. An expert witness is called on to evaluate evidence based on specialized training and experience. An expert will then express an opinion as to the significance of the findings
  • participate in training law enforcement personnel in the proper recognition, collection, and preservation of physical evidence
Q. What are the other specialized forensic science careers outside the crime laboratory?

A. Forensic pathology, forensic anthropology, forensic entomology, forensic psychiatry, forensic odontology, forensic engineering and so on.

Q. How do I become a forensic scientist?

A. If you wish to work in a crime laboratory as a forensic chemist or biologist, you must have a thorough grounding in the basic sciences of chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. This can be achieved by obtaining a college degree in one of these sciences. Courses in criminal justice may be useful to some extent, but a major in criminal justice is not adequate preparation for a career in forensic science [2].

Q. How can I prepare myself to be a forensic scientist in high school?

A. If you want to get ready for this career starting in high school, you can prepare yourself by acquiring several skills listed at the College Board career website [3]. These include:

  • taking as many math and science courses as possible
  • developing public speaking skills
  • organizing notes of class lectures and keeping lab notebooks
  • visiting a courthouse and watching legal cases
  • enhancing your writing skills
Q. What are the services of a crime laboratory?

A. It includes five basic services: (1) Physical Science unit: uses the principles of chemistry, physics, and geology to identify and compare physical evidence. (2) Biology unit: applies knowledge of biological sciences in order to investigate blood samples, body fluids, hair and fiber samples. (3) Firearms unit: investigates discharged bullets, cartridge cases, shotgun shells and ammunition. (4) Document unit: provides the skills needed for handwriting analysis and other questioned document issues. (5) Photographic unit: applies specialized photographic techniques for recording and examining physical evidence. Additional services may include toxicology, fingerprint analysis, voiceprint analysis, evidence collection and polygraph (lie detector) administration.

[1] Richard Saferstein (2004). Criminalistics: an introduction to forensic science, 8th edition, p.3-23.


What is Forensic Science?

 The word forensic comes from the Latin word forensis: public; to the forum or public discussion; argumentative, rhetorical, belonging to debate or discussion. From there it is a small step to the modern definition of forensic as belonging to, used in or suitable to courts of judicature, or to public discussion or debate. Forensic science is science used in public, in a court or in the justice system. Any science, used for the purposes of the law, is a forensic science.

 The forensic scientist's goal is the evenhanded use of all available information to determine the facts and, subsequently, the truth.

 Forensic science is a rewarding career where the love of science can be applied to the good of society, public health, and public safety.

 The work of the forensic scientist may reduce the number of cases entering our overloaded court system by assisting the decision-makers before a case reaches the court.

 The forensic scientist is entirely responsible for the work he performs; no one else can write his report nor testify to his opinion.

However, it takes teamwork to solve a crime. Scientists work closely with police officers, sheriff's deputies, prosecuting and defense attorneys, DEA, CIA, and FBI agents, immigration workers, and crime scene investigators, to name a few.

The forensic scientist, no matter where or by whom he is employed, works only for truth.

The forensic scientist must be impartial and unbiased. The forensic scientist must tell all of the truth, "the whole truth," no matter what it is or whom it hurts or helps. An expert opinion can be offered only if there are scientific facts upon which to base it.


What's A Forensic Scientist?

A forensic scientist is first a scientist. When he applies his scientific knowledge to assist juries, attorneys, and judges in understanding science, he is a forensic scientist.

 Forensic scientists are thinkers, good with details, good with putting pieces of a puzzle together, and curious. Some scientists work in laboratories and some also go out to places where crimes are committed (crime scenes). Others teach in colleges and universities.


 How Much Money Will I Make?

 Income in the forensic sciences varies greatly depending upon your degree, your actual job, where you work, and how many hours you work. You may never "get rich" but you will have a good income. You will be satisfied with your job, knowing you are contributing to justice — keeping the good guys on the street and helping put the bad guys in jail. Forensic scientists work different hours, depending upon what they do. Some work in forensic laboratories and work 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday. Others work out in the field on digs and may work different hours. Still others are "on call" and work after their regular shift and receive overtime or compensatory (comp) time. Essentially every branch of forensic science offers opportunities for personal growth, career advancement, and increasing financial compensation.

IN OTHER COUNTRIES- SALARY - $ 2730 TO  $ 3484 Per Month. or $ 46,452 to $ 72,000 Per Annum.


 Where Will I Work?

 Forensic scientists work in laboratories, at crime scenes, in offices, and in morgues. They may work for federal, state and local government, forensic laboratories, medical examiners offices, hospitals, universities, toxicology laboratories, police departments, medical examiner/coroner offices, or as independent forensic science consultants.


 What kind of study do you need to become a forensic scientist ?

 It depends on the field. There are several universities (see education listing) that offer courses in forensic science. However most often an appropriate study (as biology for DNA, computer science for the forensic computer science department, pathology for the pathologists), is needed for the different fields. Since there exist many different fields in forensic science, it is hard to say what kind of study is needed. My own background is in Physics, and I worked for the laboratory in the various fields as image processing and computer science, firearms and toolmarks. I just applied for the job after working at the research department of a company in digital copiers.

   If you are a student from India, you could join forensic science in a number of ways. Many universities in India offer M.Sc. Courses in Forensic Sciences. Main among these are:


 1- Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science,

Ministry of Home Affairs,

Government of India,

Sector III, Institutional Area,

Outer Ring Road,

Rohini, Delhi-110085


Tel: 011-27521091, 27522564, 27514161,

Fax: 011-27511571


 2- Admission Office, Amity Campus, Sector - 44, Noida – 201 303

     Amity Center, E-25, Defence Colony, New Delhi – 110 024

 Amity Institute offers the following four courses in Forensic Science.

B.Sc. (Hons.) Forensic Sciences (3 years)

M.Sc. Forensic Sciences (2 years)

PG Diploma in Forensic Science (1 year)

PG Diploma in Cyber Crime & Cyber Law (1 year)


 3- Department of Criminology and Forensic Science,

Dr. Hari Singh Gaur Vishwavidyalaya,

Sagar, Sagar University,

Madhya Pradesh,

PIN-470 003 India


 4- Department of Criminology and Forensic Science,

Karnataka University,

Dharwar 580003,




 5- Department of Forensic Science,

Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar University,

Agra, U.P.



 6 -Punjabi University, Patiala, India


 I have talked to many students (over phone mostly) who have a great love for forensics, and would love to pursue a course in it. But they are hesitant to join it. Why? Because they have heard from someone that the scope for Forensics is limited in our country. This is simply not true. My answer to this is simple - Your scope for ANY job is limited if you are mediocre in your specialty. And that includes Forensics. If you excel in your subject, there is no reason, why you can not make a name for you and your country.

  A number of bright youngsters are today looking for unexplored areas where they can achieve success quickly and rise to big positions in a relatively short span of time. If you are a youngster with this view, this page is for you.

 The first and foremost is that it is a challenging field, which fills you with lot of job satisfaction. The field is relatively unknown at present. Not many youngsters are aware of this discipline, so job positions are relatively easy to get, and you get a raise in hierarchical position very quickly. Above all, you can have the satisfaction of playing the real Sherlock Holmes!


 I am an entomologist. What are my chances?

      Some bright youngsters with a Ph.D. Degree in entomology wrote to me asking how they could join forensic sciences. They could pursue a course in Forensic Entomology and become very successful Forensic Entomologists. These are the specialists who can help the law by their specialized knowledge of insects. For instance, if a corpse is infested with maggots, they can study them and can tell the time of death of that person. The cause of death could also be inferred in some cases, especially if the person was poisoned. If that were the case, maggots would ingest some of it along with the flesh. If the person was completely reduced to bones, the maggots could still be examined for the poison, because they had ingested it. If the maggots had metamorphosed into adult flies and had flown away, even then the poison ingested could be found out! How? Well, before turning into adults, the maggots first pupate. For this they move out of the body. About a few yards away from the body, they pupate and when they become adults, the pupa shells are left behind. A careful search around the body would enable the forensic entomologist to successfully identify them. These pupa shells can be examined and analysed for poisons. If the poison was present in the body in the first place, it would be ingested by maggots, and in turn passed on to the pupa shells. Forensic entomologists have even taken out the DNA of a dead individual from the guts of maggots and have successfully found out about the identity of the deceased person!


 Here are some more examples of how a forensic botanist can help in the investigation of crime.

 (i) A dead body is found in a forest. The crime investigation team calls a forensic botanist. He recovers several pollen grains from the dead man’s shirt, which come from fir trees. There are no fir trees around. The inevitable conclusion: Either the man worked in an area where there were fir tress, or he was murdered at such a place. The police look around and ten miles away find a place where there are fir trees. Some blood is found, which can be matched with that of the murder victim. Some tire marks are found at this “new” scene of crime, from which the murderer’s car can be identified and he is apprehended. Had the forensic botanist not told about fir trees, the police would never have ventured as far as ten miles away from the scene of crime!

 (ii) A dead body is lying in a forest. The leaves and grass under his body have turned yellow. If shielded from the sun, leaves and grass loose their chlorophyll in a certain fixed interval of time (two weeks minimum). From this observation it can be said that the body was lying there for at least two weeks (Calculation of the time since death)

 (iii) A thief enters the house of a person through a window on the first floor. The entry is through his garden. The thief is clever enough to use gloves to prevent leaving fingerprints. He also takes care to wipe all footprints, and thinks he has done a perfect crime. Next day about ten suspects are rounded up, who were seen loitering around that region at the time the burglary was committed. The police asks them to submit their clothes. A forensic botanist examines the pollen grains found on the clothes of all. Only the clothes of the actual criminal actually match the “pollen print” of the victim’s garden. He is apprehended.

 (iv) What is a “pollen print”? Well, every geographical area - small or large - has a unique “pollen print”. It refers to the specific combination of the types of pollens and spores found only in that area. The specific ration of the pollen grains further “individualizes” the pollen print. Let us imagine that the victim above grew 5 different types of flowers in his garden - roses, marigolds, Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus), petunia and tulips, and they were in such numbers that the ambient air in and around the garden contained pollens in the following ratio:

 Roses: marigolds: Carnation: petunia: tulips = 25%:10%:20%:30%:15%

 This is the “pollen print” of the victim’s garden. On entering the garden, the suspect would have gone through this ambient air, and the pollens would have stuck to his clothes in roughly the same ratio. Any other suspect who has not been to that garden is very unlikely to have the very same pollen in the very same ration. It has even been said that pollen prints could have been used in the famous O.J.Simpson case. It is known that the person who killed Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown and her boy friend Ron Goldman on the night of June 12, 1994 hid in ambush under a flowering willow tree before escaping. In this situation the killer's hair and clothes would have got heavily soiled with the pollen from this tree. All the police had to do was to collect pollen samples from the hair and clothes of O.J.Simpson. Had willow pollen been found in these places, it would have been very difficult for the defense to account for them. On the other hand if no willow pollen had been found, the defence case would have got stronger, and there would be much less suspicion surrounding the case today. It is however a fact that the only country to use forensic botany in courts on a regular basis is NewZealand. Police personnel in other countries are simply not aware of its many potentials.

 Pollen prints are now used in investigation of terrorism. Suspect letters, letter bombs etc would have the pollen print of the area where they originated. Thus the origin of such letters can be determined. The science of analyzing pollen and spores to help solve criminal cases is known as Forensic palynology.


 I know a lot about computers. Can I also be a forensic specialist?

Great! You certainly can. You can have a bright future in computer forensics. These are the specialists who can analyse a computer and tell to the police all the illegal activities going on through that. If someone has been sending offending, threatening or sexually explicit mails to other persons, he can no more get away by simply denying his involvement. A computer forensic specialist can sit at his computer and can retrieve all the messages he has been sending through it. You might think that deleting these messages from the computer would erase all evidence, but this is not the case, as any computer specialist will tell you. People who have been throwing computer viruses through the internet have been caught in a similar way. There are a host of other illegal activities in the field of computers, such as hacking, altering banking records, personnel information etc, which can be caught by a forensic computer specialist.

 These days, high tech crimes are being carried out by passing on messages through internet, Emails, websites etc. A forensic computer specialist can catch all of them. In a recent case of attack on the Indian Parliament by some terrorists (13 December 2001), a laptop was found in the possession of some of their supporters, and lot of incriminating information could be retrieved from it. On the basis of that information, more terrorists were later apprehended.

 Amity Institute (please see above), offers a one year PG Diploma in Cyber Crime and Cyber Law.

        Anil Aggrawal.


 How much does it earn ?

 Please visit the job Listings of the AAFS to get an idea. For the situation in the Netherlands Forensic Institute, depending on the level (experience and education) from EURO 22.000 to EURO 50.000 (1 EURO equals approximately one dollar). Forensic Pathology might pay EURO 70.000, and of course the management positions will pay until EURO 80.000. In the Netherlands we work 36 hours a week, so it means you can work four days a week of nine hours (this condition is often not available in the United States).


 What are the advantages of the job ?

 There are several reasons to become a forensic scientist :

 -         the final result of your work is often visible to yourself and others (so much involvement in the work)

-         high responsibility

-         every case is unique, so there is often much variation

-         if you work in a forensic laboratory with different fields of expertise, it is nice to work together and write a report together

-         to implement and validate new techniques


 What are the disadvantages of the job ?

 Some cases can have a high impact on yourself, because there are things that happen which you did not expect to be real and you see them visually. Furthermore it is hard to plan the number of cases (if you accept them all), so sometimes work load can be an annoyance.

 You have to go to court on the most unexpected moments, and since this takes often a long time waiting outside of the court room, this can be boring. Also you have to consider that often you have to do lots of administration work for a case, since it is important for quality assurance to know what examination had been done to an exhibit.

 Sometimes journalists will call you even at home, and try to get information from you.

 In this work criticism is something you should cope with in a proper way. You might be confronted with this in court or you might also have this with the personal certification and the rules around it. Even if you are experienced for a long time, you might be confronted with new insights and new methods.

 If you draw a wrong conclusion, you should always admit that for the court. An interesting article was in Science and Justice, Vol. 43, No. 2, "Context effects in forensic science: a review and application of the science of science to crime laboratory practice in the United States", by MJ Saks, DM Risinger, R Rosenthal and WC Thompson.  When working on case work you might become influenced by the context effect. You will receive a case with the complete story from the police. This sounds interesting, however it can result in becoming biased. Furthermore if you might hear other results from your colleagues in other sections, and you are drawing conclusions from the evidence, with their conclusions in mind. The article describes a method of minimizing the context effect, by having a central front desk with persons who know very much about forensic science. They will discuss the case. The forensic scientists in the laboratory just are limited to the information that they receive from this person, and it should be restricted to a minimum in order not to get biased.  The risks of doing blind tests are also discussed in this article.

 Validation of new techniques is not always possible. If you are using a new method and would like to use it in court, it is on the court to decide if it is admissible. Since many systems are becoming more complex (software programs etc), it is often impossible to do a complete validation, since there are too many variables that change in time (software version, hardware components etc) which you can not predict.

  (Source- 1- The American Academy of Forensic Sciences.  2- Anil Aggrawal.)



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