Forensics: The Science of Crime

Course Overview

Units at a glance

Blood, fingerprints, tire tracks, and trace evidence are used to catch the criminals in TV, but how do real life forensic scientists help identify suspects? In this unit, you will be introduced to forensic science. We will discuss what forensic science consists of and how the field developed through history. You will learn about some of the responsibilities of forensic scientists and about some of the specialty areas that forensic scientists may work in.

Once a crime has been committed, one of the first steps for the forensic scientist is the identification and collection of evidence. In this unit, you will discover some of the techniques and practices that forensic scientists and law enforcement officials use to identify evidence and collect that evidence in a way that maintains the integrity of the evidence. You will also learn about some of the different types of evidence that might be found at a crime scene and how the different types of evidence may best be handled.

In this unit, we will discuss the physical evidence found at crime scenes. In doing so, we will examine the different types of evidence that are used in a crime investigation and in court trials. We will also discuss how forensic scientists and investigators identify and collect evidence. Finally, we will look at some specific examples of physical evidence, including glass, soil, and impressions, to see how forensic scientists identify and analyze these types of evidence.

In this unit, we will examine three potentially important types of physical evidence: hair, blood, and fingerprints. For each of these types of evidence, we will look at how the evidence may be collected and how the evidence might be tested. We will also discuss some of the challenges in examining these types of evidence and what we might learn from them.

In this unit, we will discuss the collection and analysis of firearm and tool evidence. We will learn some of the considerations in collecting this type of evidence. We will also examine what information forensic scientists can learn from evidence like firearms, bullets, gunpowder residue, and tool marks that are left at a crime scene. Finally, we will discuss under what conditions individual characteristics might be found on these types of evidence.

In this unit, you will learn more about how forensic scientists examine human remains and gain information from these remains. We will discuss some of the ways that forensic scientists try to determine the time of death for recovered human remains. We will also discuss how forensic scientists make use of the forensic autopsy to gain more information about a probable cause of death and mechanism of death. Finally, we will discuss what scientists can learn about the condition of bones found at a crime scene and some of the ongoing research by forensic scientists to learn more about rates of decomposition.

In this unit, we will discuss what DNA is and how it is used as evidence in crime investigations. We will examine the basic components of DNA and learn what makes the DNA of each person unique. The unit will also discuss how biological evidence, like blood or hair samples, is preserved for DNA testing. Finally, we will examine the use of DNA evidence in court cases and some of the considerations that occur in these cases.

In this unit, we will discuss how forensic science approaches crime scenes in which fire or explosions have occurred. In doing so, we will learn about the challenges that these crime scenes present in the collection of evidence, the methods used to determine the point of ignition, and how evidence is collected and preserved at arson scenes. We will also examine some of the different types of explosives and how explosive materials are collected and preserved.

Science: it’s a discipline that has helped mankind send humans to the moon, to explore the deepest recesses of ocean floor, and to be able to peer deep within our bodies’ cells to learn how to fight diseases better. Most of us trust science to tell us what is true about the world. But just what is so scientific about forensic science? In this unit, you’ll discover how forensic science, just like other scientific disciplines, uses the scientific method to arrive at conclusions we can rely on. We’ll even apply scientific research tactics to analyze a crime scene of our own!

Blood, bodies, DNA: there’s no escaping biology at the crime scene. Forensic biologists use their knowledge of biological systems to analyze evidence. Anything from a single cell to an entire human population might yield important clues. In this unit, we’ll learn the principles behind cell biology, molecular biology, and genetics. We’ll explore how forensic scientists apply these principles in their work. We’ll also discover how new technologies in DNA typing and genetic analysis are revolutionizing criminal investigations.

A man’s body is found at the base of a tall building. Did he fall, jump, or was he pushed? Two cars collide and spin off the road. Who was at fault, and how did the accident happen? A woman ingested a lethal toxin. Was it an overdose, or was she poisoned? What substance caused her death? These are just a few examples of the many applications of physics and chemistry in forensic science. The physical sciences are all around us—in our movements, interactions, and environment. Forensic scientists apply the principles of physics and chemistry to better understand and reconstruct crimes.

Let’s go on a journey inside the criminal mind. We know that almost all crimes leave behind at least small traces of physical evidence, but what psychological clues about the offender can we find when we observe the crime scene? Forensic psychologists study why criminals commit crimes and are able to decode the smallest, seemingly most insignificant of details at a crime scene to tell law enforcement what type of criminal committed the crime! Partially buried body in a murder investigation? That may indicate a suspect who knew the victim personally. Did the criminal leave a note? The words they used can tell us a lot about who this person is. In this unit, you’ll travel inside the minds of criminals and the investigators who chase them. We’ll learn about how forensic psychologists develop a profile of an offender as they investigate a crime scene, the ways bias may creep into the profiling process, and how technology and good old fashioned people skills can help law enforcement detect truth from lies.

Course Highlights

Investigate how forensic scientists analyze evidence for information about crimes.
Learn more about what information can be gained from human remains, physical evidence, and burned materials.
Examine how forensic scientists recognize and preserve physical evidence.
Explore how forensic scientists investigate crime scenes.

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