Forensic Science: Science Lessons for Students

Forensic science can be a lot like a puzzle: challenging but fun. Finding clues, connecting the dots, and solving mysteries are all part of forensic science and crime scene investigation. One of the most important aspects of forensic science is the preservation of evidence. Making sure the evidence is kept safe and intact is important so that investigators can reconstruct what happened and glean clues from the evidence. You might be familiar with forensic science from TV shows like CSI. However, forensic science can be a bit different in real life.

Before modern technology was developed, solving crimes could be very difficult. There might have been evidence at the crime scene, but there were not a lot of ways to connect it to the suspects in a definitive way. A lot of crime cases were based around witness statements, if there were any. It used to be believed that eyewitness statements were very trustworthy pieces of evidence. However, it is now known that people can often be mistaken about what really happened. This happens because victims of crimes can become too scared to accurately take note of their surroundings. It’s why police often tell people to do their best to remember the unusual details of a suspect or crime. Those details tend to stick out to our brains more, even in distress, and it’s more likely that those will be remembered. As a result of confused eyewitness accounts, it is likely that many innocent people were tried and punished for crimes they did not commit. However, as time went on, different types of evidence began to be collected and analyzed.

Fingerprinting is one of the oldest tools in a forensic scientist’s toolbox. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been collecting fingerprints as evidence since 1924. When fingerprints are found at a crime scene, they are often one of the most compelling pieces of evidence because no two people’s fingerprints are exactly the same. The fingerprints found at crime scenes are compared to images of suspects’ fingerprints. To improve their ability to identify guilty suspects using fingerprints, the FBI has recorded information about the fingerprints they have collected and who they belonged to since 1924. The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) was created in 1999, digitizing these files and improving the collection and comparison of suspect fingerprints. However, suspect fingerprints are not the only fingerprints in the database. Criminals, federal employees and those who have applied to be federal employees, members of the United States military, immigrants, anyone who has submitted their fingerprints voluntarily, and anyone who is considered to be of national security interest has had their fingerprints recorded in the database.

DNA is a newer and valuable tool in a forensic scientist’s toolbox. While DNA is not quite as unique as a fingerprint because it can be shared between identical twins, it’s much easier to collect and test. Fingerprints can be hard to collect and analyze because they can be incomplete or smudged, but DNA can be found in almost anything a person can leave behind. Some of the most commonly collected DNA sources are hair, saliva, and even tears.

In this day and age, just as many crimes are committed in cyberspace as they are in the real world. Digital forensic science can help solve crimes that have been committed in the virtual world. Computers provide all of the clues to cyber-crimes: Forensic scientists can examine a computer to find out if it’s been used to steal information or harm another computer. In this way, forensic scientists are able to help bring cyber-criminals to justice too!