[ About the author: Emily Nelson earned an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before beginning her career as a science writer ]
The field of forensic science has come into the spotlight recently with the rise in popularity of shows like Without a Trace. But actually, forensic science is not new. Forensic scientists have been helping detectives solve crimes for hundreds of years. Notably, in 1784, a man was convicted of murder when police found a wad of newspaper in the victim’s head wound that matched the one in his pocket. He had used the paper to load the pistol he used to fatally wound the victim.
The term forensic science refers to a broad range of specialties that use scientific techniques to analyze physical, biological, and digital data for legal purposes. In the most general sense, it covers everything from food and drug regulation to criminal investigation and prosecution. Most commonly, forensic science is the application of science to the enforcement of laws within the criminal justice system.
The origins of forensic science date back centuries, but one of the most significant modern developments was the 1932 creation of the FBI forensic science laboratory. This lab is now the world’s largest forensic laboratory. Crime labs at the federal, state, county and municipal levels structure their facilities around this model. Still, there is a wide variety in both size and capabilities of each crime lab. Budgetary and other considerations mean there is no typical lab.
The job of a forensic scientist is challenging and ever-evolving. As you might guess, forensic scientists are responsible for analyzing the evidence that a criminal investigation recovers. What you might not think about, though, is that forensic scientists must be knowledgeable about the legal process so they perform analyses whose results are admissible in a court of law. This brings us to the next part of the forensic scientist’s job — providing expert testimony. The job of the forensic scientist doesn’t necessarily end with the analysis. Forensic scientists are often called upon to explain and defend their results during trials. This component of the forensic scientist’s job is often critical in securing a criminal conviction.
Often, forensic scientists specialize in a particular field of forensic science. Visit our articles page and you will find that forensic science offers a wide range of fascinating career opportunities!