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Introduction to Forensic Science

Introduction to Forensic Science-Understand how basic scientific principles underpin forensic science and can contribute to solving criminal cases.

Course at a Glance

Mode of learning : Online - Instructor Lead(LVC)

Domain / Subject : Mathematics & Science

Function : General

Trainer name : Roderick Wayland Bates

Starts on : 11th Aug 2014

Duration : 8 Weeks

Difficulty : Advanced

Introduction to Forensic Science
Understand how basic scientific principles underpin forensic science and can contribute to solving criminal cases We have all seen forensic scientists in TV shows, but how do they really work? What is the science behind their work? The course aims to explain the scientific principles and techniques behind the work of forensic scientists and will be illustrated with numerous case studies from Singapore and around the world.

Some topics to be included are:

  • How did forensics come about? What is the role of forensics in policework? Can these methods be used in non-criminal areas?
  • Blood. What is it? How can traces of blood be found and used in evidence?
  • Is DNA chemistry really so powerful?
  • What happens (biologically and chemically) if someone tries to poison me? What happens if I try to poison myself?
  • How can we tell how long someone has been dead? What if they have been dead for a really long time?
  • Can a little piece of a carpet fluff or a single hair, convict someone?
  • Was the (ex-) Emperor Napoleon murdered by the perfidious British, or killed by his wallpaper?

Course Forma t- The class will consist of:

  • Lecture videos about 8- 20 minutes in length. These contain 1-2 integrated quiz questions as part of self-assessment. This will not be graded.
  • Graded quiz(zes) will be held every 2 weeks (80% of total assessment).
  • 1 open-ended assignment which will involve peer assessment (16% of total assessment). 
  • Polling will be held (4% of total assignment).

Certifcation : Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment. 

Resournces need :For this course, all you need is an Internet connection, and the time to read, write, and discuss, with your peers.

Course eligibility

Recommended Background
Pre-requisites for this course are minimal. Knowledge of High School or O-level science is advantageous.

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Course Syllabus

  • Week 1

Topic: Introduction
Synopsis: The first section illustrates the scope and diversity of forensic science, and places it in its legal context. Basic ideas, such as association and reconstruction are discussed, the all important Locard exchange principle is expounded and some of the limits of forensic science are suggested. The ideas in the Introduction underpin all subsequent sections.
Case studies in this section: Walter Dinivan and Jetkor Singh; The Roberto Calvi case; Buck Ruxton and the Jigsaw Murders; The 2005 London bombings; The Brides in the Bath; Gareth Williams; The Wood Chipper murders.

  • Week 2

Topic 1: Spectroscopy and the Structure of Atoms
Synopsis: This section seeks to link the concept of atomic structure with the methods for the determination of the presence of different elements in a given sample. This allows students to understand how these techniques can be reliable and sensitive.
Case studies in this section: The Death of Napoleon; The Kennedy Assassination; Adam, the Torso in the Thames
Topic 2: Chromatography and Molecular Spectroscopy
Synopsis: Some of the ideas of the preceding section are extended here, as they can apply to the analyses of compounds. The methods of Chromatography, Infra-red spectroscopy and mass spectrometry are also discussed. These are essential for later sections, such as Drugs and Toxicology.

  • Week 3

Topic 1: Time of Death
The changes that the body and bodily remains undergo on time scales ranging from minutes to centuries are key to determining the time of death. These are surveyed in this section.
Case studies in this section: Peter Thomas; Danielle van Dam; Ötzi.
Topic 2: Blood
Synopsis: Blood will be spilled in violent crimes. In this section, methods to identify and individualise blood are discussed, but DNA methods are left to a separate section. The information that can be deduced from blood spatter is discussed.
Case studies in this section: Christopher Nudds; Lord Lucan

  • Week 4

Topic: DNA
Synopsis: DNA has become essential and ubiquitous in forensic science. The nature of DNA and how it can be employed are presented in this section. The section includes the first DNA case, cold cases, paternity and maternity testing, mitochondrial DNA and several other topics.
Case studies in this section: Colin Pitchfork, The Identification of the Last Tsar of Russia; The story of Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees.

  • Week 5

Topic 1: Fingerprinting
Synopsis: Fingerprinting is introduced by a short history. The composition, means of visualisation and classification of fingerprints is discussed, and the question of faking them is raised.
Case studies in this section: The Pioneering Stratton Brothers; the Brandon Mayfield Debacle.
Topic 2: Polymers and Fibres
Synopsis: Fibres, whether natural or synthetic, make up a large part of our world and how they can be used in forensic science is the subject of this section. This includes discussion of the different kinds of fibre, how to distinguish and individualise them. The importance of hair is highlighted. This section draws upon knowledge from the spectroscopy and chromatography sections.
Case studies in this section: Robert Curley; Wayne Williams; Sarah Payne
Topic 3: Firearms
Synopsis: Around the World, firearms are involved in many crimes. In this section, a brief history and explanation of firearms is presented. Forensic topics, including GSR and striations are discussed.
Case studies in this section: The Jill Dando Shooting

  • Week 6

Topic: Drugs
Synopsis: A survey of some of the more significant drugs is presented.

  • Week 7

Topic: Toxicology
Synopsis: Poisoning, accidental, deliberate or occupational dates back into the mists of antiquity. In this section, different aspects of toxicology are introduced and Paracelsus’ concept of poison is discussed. Specific poisons, such as arsenic, sarin and thallium, are discussed in detail. Classifying harmful substances.
Case studies in this section: Florence Maybrick; The Maine poisoning; Graham Young and his Strange Hobby; Paul Agutter and the Toxic Tonic; Georgi Markov and the Poisoned Umbrella; Alexander Litvinenko

  • Week 8

Topic: Case studies
Synopsis: The course comes to its completion with a number of case studies that highlight important aspects of forensic science and some additional topics.
Case studies in this section: The King in the Carpark; Annie Le; Peter Griffiths; Jon Benet Ramsey; George Metesky; Rachel Nickell; Ted Kacynski; The Soham murders; Dr Crippen


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Sample Video