Monday, October 22, 2012

What Is Forensic Science? The Basics Of A Rewarding Career

For diverse reasons, Forensic Science is becoming a very popular subject, although few people seem to have a concrete idea about this branch of Science. Probably the main reason for the popularity of forensics is the success some TV shows have enjoyed during the past few years. CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) is by far the best example, where teams composed by fashionable young investigators skillfully manage to solve the most complicated criminal cases whose preliminary evidence often lead to unpredictable outcomes.

However, the reality of the forensics world is often far from what is depicted on TV serials. Actual forensic investigations involve several groups of people, each specialized in a different area of expertise, rather than being a small group where the members perform very different tests and methods.

Leaving Hollywood aside, let’s take a brief look at the main areas that compete to forensic experts.

Forensic Anthropology: These experts search, recover and analyze human remains with the aim of establishing the identity of unknown individuals. They can deal with remains such as skeletons or decomposed, mummified, burned, or otherwise unrecognizable bodies to inquire parameters such as age at death, sex, stature (height), ancestry or pathology. Other estimations such as time since death and manner of death are also carried out. They are involved in criminal cases but also when deaths resulted from accident, suicide, or even mass disasters or human rights violations (i.e., genocide).

Forensic Pathology: These are also known as Medical Examiners. They usually carry out autopsies of dead bodies to establish cause of death and identity, or confirm it if not known yet. Autopsies are performed when death was sudden or unexpected, as it is the case of accidents, homicides, suicides or other tragedies.

Forensic Odontology or Forensic Dentistry: Specialize on using dental evidence to establish identity. Dentition remains are often helpful in cases of mass disasters or where multiple deaths occurred. Dental forensics also analyze bite marks looking for dental features that could lead to a match between a wound and a suspect's dental features like tooth alignment and shape.

Forensic Nurses get involved in recognition of cases of abuse, either child physical or sexual abuse, or cases where adult domestic violence, raping are suspected. They usually work in hospital emergency room situations

Forensic Chemistry and its related field Forensic Toxicology deal with the analysis of chemicals such as drugs and poisons that may occur in body fluids or at crime scenes. Such studies can contribute to know the cause of death in murder, identify chemicals used in explosives or used to start or accelerate a fire. Other elements of interest for this field include fingerprints, soil, dust, fibers, glass and hairs.

DNA Analysis and Molecular Biology are becoming popular subjects in forensic science. The main purpose of this field is the analysis of DNA for purposes of human identification

Forensics is a big and growing field of the law related professional sphere and involves other aspects that I will address in other articles. Keep in mind that whichever branch one chooses to embrace, becoming a forensic scientist requires full commitment with ethics and a lifelong dedication. Just remember that working in forensics is not just a fashionable position but a job bearing some responsibility on imparting Justice and the freedom of the innocent and the ability of the Law to punish the guilty are at stake.

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