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Forensic Chemistry

The forensic chemistry concentration builds on a complete B.S. degree in chemistry and currently is open only to majors in the department. Completion of the specialization leads to B.S. chemists who can still pursue a wide range of careers or graduate education, and who also have insights into chemical aspects of the field of forensic science.  To complete the forensic chemistry concentration, students must complete the following program in addition to all requirements for either the ACS certified or non-certified B.S. program:

  1. Two criminology and justice studies courses (200 and 415, or 201 and 415);
  2. CHE 410 (instrumental analysis);
  3. Two forensic chemistry courses, one of which must be CHE 360, the other may be either Forensic Applications of Mass Spectrometry or Forensic Methods and Applications for Biomolecule Analysis.

All three courses will have a laboratory component. In addition, students completing the specialization are strongly encouraged to complete a forensics internship or research experience and attend a meeting in a related area such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting. To enroll in the program, students should identify chemistry (CHMA) as their major and the forensic chemistry specialization (CFOR) as their second major/specialization.


What is the Forensic Chemistry Concentration?

The concentration in Forensic Chemistry is a program available for undergraduate Chemistry majors, which began in the fall of 2004. Graduates of the program will be well-rounded Forensic Chemists with a Bachelor of Science degree, who, in addition to having studied many of the traditional methods of forensic science, will also have been exposed to some of the legal and ethical dimensions of Forensics. These students will have the unique insights into current usage of traditional methods and be able to envision new possibilities as a result of their understanding of Forensic Chemistry at both the molecular and social levels.

The goal of the Forensic Chemistry Concentration is not to graduate students with B.S. degrees in Forensic Science. There are a number of undergraduate Forensic Science programs available at other schools where students learn about chemistry, biology, legal issues, investigative methods, social science issues, etc. – such that students graduating know a little about a lot of things, but too little in any one area to be an effective employee. The Forensic Chemistry Concentration builds on a complete B.S. degree in Chemistry, so completing the Concentration leads to B.S. Chemists who can still pursue a wide range or careers/educations but also have insights into chemical aspects of the field of Forensic Science. The goal of the program is not to convert Chemists into Forensic Scientists, but to enable them to remain Chemists who, by using their skills and background, will introduce a higher level of science into their work as Forensic Scientists.

A total of three Forensic Chemistry courses are being developed, covering chemical and instrumental methods as well as the analysis of biomolecules, including DNA and proteins. These activities will be supported by and will compliment offerings within the Department of Criminology, which approaches the field from a very different but crucial perspective; and by the establishment of a student internship program with the NJ State Police Crime Laboratory.



CHE-360 Forensic Chemistry: Overview

Course Description
This will be the pivotal course for the New Forensic Chemistry Concentration in the Chemistry Department. Forensic Chemistry approaches the challenges and currently used analytical methods of Forensic Science from a fundamental, chemical perspective. Topics include drug analysis, arson investigation, questioned document analysis, and the analysis of gunshot residue samples.

While the Forensic Chemistry Concentration is only available to Chemistry Majors, individual Forensic Chemistry courses may be taken by students outside of Chemistry if they have the appropriate prerequisites.

Learning Goals
The Forensic Chemistry Course is the keystone of the Concentration. From Forensic Science textbooks, web sites, and publications in journals such as The Journal of Forensic Science, the instructor will assist the students in appreciating the challenges and methods associated with the key areas of forensic chemistry (fingerprint detection, questioned document analysis, etc.) and, most importantly, the level at which methods used are understood at a molecular level. For each topic, following an introduction to the field, the class will “step back” and consider the field as chemists. Questions will be formulated to develop a deeper understanding of the topic. Through such experiences, students will learn how to use the chemistry, mathematics and physics that they have learned to develop a satisfying understanding of the methods used in forensic science, which are frequently poorly understood. These experiences prepare students for careers in which education is a lifelong process.

Students will be assessed through conventional methods such as quizzes, lab reports and a final exam. There will also be a portion of the grade that reflects the level of participation as perceived by the instructor. Students will periodically be appraised of their participation evaluation throughout the semester, and suggestions made. For each topic, when a ‘chemical treasure hunt’ is initiated and a round table discussion occurs shortly thereafter, there will always be lead-students identified, so that each student will have multiple opportunities to play a pivotal role in the process. That is, students will be working and making presentations in small groups.

This will be a very interactive course, that requires constant student involvement in reading and evaluating the Forensic literature, experiencing currently used methods, formulating fundamental questions as scientists, searching for clues in related areas, and being guided through an organized approach to bringing together new facts to either define, at a molecular level, a given method, or to design laboratory experiments that may quickly provide key insights. Constant participation is a natural part of the process.

In terms of how this course relates to other experiences in the program, it is a focused attempt to demonstrate to Chemistry majors the importance of maintaining their identity as a Chemist if they pursue a career in Forensic Science, and to develop sound methods for evaluation and self-training. The course also introduces them to an array of commonly used methods in forensic labs – many simples color tests for drugs, blood samples, etc. After this course, students in the Concentration will be able to decide on a direction of further study. If they would like to consider the possibility of working in a Forensic laboratory, they may either work in the ‘chemistry lab’ or ‘DNA lab’. Since the most powerful single tool for compound identification is mass spectrometry, students interested in the ‘chemistry lab’ track will take the “Forensic Applications of Mass Spectrometry” course. Those interested in the DNA and protein side of the field will take the “Forensic Methods and Analyses of Biomolecules” course. So, the courses in the program serve separate goals.

Students will be sent, in some cases, on “Chemical Treasure Hunts” – searching the literature of chemistry and instrumental analysis that will be used to provide insights into the forensic method. One frequently encounters a variety of explanations in the literature of this field that are conflicting. For example, a common reagent for attempting to find blood at a crime scene is luminol, which fluoresces when it reacts with blood. A variety of chemical reactions can be found in the literature describing the response. Some suggest that it is not a test for blood at all, but for the iron in the blood. However the chemistry which suggests that luminol reacts with iron is similar to known reactions of related compounds with other metals, so there may be a wide range of explanations. Students will learn how to identify and define such misunderstandings, and develop approaches for investigating them (which may involve literature work and lab work).

Learning activities also include integrated lecture/lab activities, round table discussions, and the maintaining of a Forensic Chemistry Notebook.

CHE-360 Forensic Chemistry: Syllabus

Course Description
This course approaches the challenges, methods and analyses of forensic science from a fundamental, chemical perspective. Topics include drug analysis, arson investigation, questioned document analysis, and the analysis of paint and gunshot residue samples.

Course Objectives
For students interested in pursuing careers in Forensic Chemistry, the course helps the student to develop approaches to understanding, correctly using and further developing current chemical tools that are used in the Forensic Sciences. The course will be a required course for the Forensic Chemistry Concentration.

Course Prerequisites
Two semesters of Organic Chemistry, one semester of Analytical Chemistry and one semester of Physical Chemistry are the prerequisites for the course.

Course Purpose
This is a required course for students in the B.S. Chemistry program who are also completing the Forensic Chemistry Concentration. It can also be taken, based on availability, but students from other departments, if they have the prerequisites.

Course Content
Lecture topics include:

  • Crime Lab Services – from local labs to the FBI
  • Handling Physical Evidence
  • Identification of evidence using microscopy – The example of hair analysis
  • Chemistry and Dying of Fibers
  • Paints and Plastics – Spectroscopic Methods
  • Presumptive Methods for Drug Identification – Spot Tests
  • Conclusive Methods for Drug Identification
  • Arson Investigation – Characterization of hydrocarbon mixtures
  • Chemistry and Firearms
  • Questioned Document Examination
  • Artificial Aging – Is this signature a week or a decade old?
  • Applications of Chemistry and Physics in the Analysis of Blood Samples
  • Inorganic Systems as Evidence – Glass, Soil
  • Chemistry of Fingerprint Collection

Laboratory Experiences and Topics

  • Analysis of Pen Inks by TLC and Spectroscopic Methods
  • Spot Tests for Drug Analysis
  • Detection of Cocaine on Paper Currency
  • Introduction to Sample Characterization Using Microscopy
  • Fibers As Evidence
  • Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry – The Gold Standard for Analysis
  • Fingerprint Chemistry
  • Analysis of Glass Samples
  • Visualization Software – Computer Capturing and Analysis of Evidence
  • Introduction to Crime Scene Investigation

Teaching Methods
Formal lectures, targeted discussions and laboratory experiences will be used. Methods learned will be applied in the investigation of a ‘crime scene’ on campus at the end of the course.

Course Requirements
Students will be required to demonstrate a fundamental ability to question the chemical tools of forensic science, and to define approaches for developing their own chemical understanding – based on conceived experiments and literature investigations.

Student Assessment
The course grade will be computed as follows:

  • 5 quizzes will be given, the grade will be based on the 4 highest quiz grades 20%
  • Comprehensive Final Exam 20%
  • Laboratory Reports 40%
  • Class Participation 10%
  • Forensic Chemistry Notebook 10%

Quizzes will be given in class, during the last 30 minutes of a class period. Quiz topics will be announced in advance. The final exam will cover the entire lecture and lab experience. Each lab will be accompanied by specific instructions on both how to complete the lab experience, and what is expected in the laboratory report.
Throughout the course, investigations into lecture topics will lead to a number of fundamental chemical questions, with the theme being ‘how does this work?’ Students will be sent on ‘chemical treasure hunts’ to collect information relevant to the chemical system, and a ‘round table discussion’ will occur in the next class period to present findings and reach new conclusions. Groups of four will be assigned to lead the discussion and process. Based on performance, effectiveness, reasoning skills, etc., a class participation grade will be assigned. The instructor will make regular assessments of this portion of the grade, and make clear what expectations there are for full credit in this category. Finally, throughout the course, class and lab topics will reveal ‘things a forensic scientist needs to know’. For example, it is useful to understand the chemical structures and functions of compounds found in materials found in the household (shampoo, gasoline, cleaning materials). Assignments will be regularly made and information found will be kept in the student’s forensic chemistry notebook. These notebooks will be collected four times throughout the semester to ensure that the assignments are being completed.


  • W.G. Eckert, Introduction to Forensic Sciences, Second Edition, Elsevier, New York, 1992.
  • N.E. Genge, The Science of Crime Scene Investigation: The Forensic Casebook, Ballentine Books, New York 2002.
  • T. Kubic, N. Petraco, Forensic Science: Laboratory Experiment Manual and Workbook, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 2003.
  • O. Hilton, Scientific Examination of Questioned Documents, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1993.
  • B.A. J. Fisher, Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation, Seventh Edition, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 2004.
  • R. Saferstein, Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science, Seventh Edition, Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, 2001.
  • C.E. Meloan, R.E. James, R. Saferstein, Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science, Lab Manual, Seventh Edition, Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, 2001.

Forensic Applications of Mass Spectrometry: Syllabus

Professor John Allison, presiding
phone:  609.771.3290

Scheduled Class Time:
Mondays and Thursdays, 8:00 – 9:20 AM – lectures in Room 122A
Laboratory:  Mondays, 9:30 – 12:20 in Room C-216

Understanding Mass Spectra:  A Basic Approach
Second Edition, R. Martin Smith, Wiley Interscience 2004

This course is designed to introduce students to the concepts of mass spectrometry – instrumentation and mass spectral interpretation – with forensic applications.  No prior knowledge of mass spectrometry is required, however the course will build on basic concepts from physics, physical chemistry, and organic chemistry.  If you feel that your background is weak in one of these areas, the instructor can direct you to appropriate texts.

The course grade will be based on homework, hourly exams, and class participation.

Two exams will be given – a midterm exam and a final exam.  Each exam will be 15% of the Final Course Grade.

Homework performance will constitute 30% of the final course grade.

Thursdays will constitute 20% of the Final Course Grade.

Exams:  2 x 15% =  30%

Homework: 30%

Thursdays: 20%

Lab: 20%

TOTAL: 100%

The Thursdays Grade:
The associated points indicate that this part of the course is important.  It will not be productive and useful unless all students attend, are on time, and actively participate and work during the period.  Each student begins with 20 points.  If students choose not to attend or are late, they may lose 2 points each week and can lose up to 15 of the 20 points.  The remaining 5 points will be assigned by the instructor, representing willingness and participation on Thursdays.

The course will cover as many of the topics listed below as time permits, in approximately the order listed.

Part I – Brief History/Overview


  • Sample Introduction
  • Ion Sources
  • Fields, Forces and Motion
  • Sector Instruments and Quadrupoles
  • Detectors
  • Resolution

Ions Formed in Mass Spectrometry

  • Electron Impact Ionization
  • Vocabulary Used
  • Isotopes and Isotope Calculators
  • Structural Clues
  • Fragmentation Chemistry


Part II – A Transition Topic

Chemical Ionization

Part III – Analysis of Large Molecules

Desorption Ionization Methods

Fast Atom Bombardment with Sector Instruments

  • New Mass Limits
  • Fragmentation of Peptides

Electrospray Ionization with Quadrupole Mass Filters

  • Multiply-Charged Ions

Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization

  • Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry
  • MALDI matrices and applications

Protein Analysis and the WWW


What are the Continuing Goals of the Program?

  • Develop a Forensic Chemistry Concentration at TCNJ that will be a model for similar programs in TCNJ Departments (leading to, e.g., a Forensic Biology Concentration).
  • Create new opportunities for student training that target staff needs in the Forensics community.
  • Create courses that explore and work within the current forensic science system, where labs may have modest equipment, while also demonstrating to students what state-of-the-art instruments could offer in the area of forensic chemical analyses.

Concentration Requirements

To complete the Forensic Chemistry Concentration, which compliments the full B.S. degree program in Chemistry, students must take the following:

  • Two Criminology and Justice Courses (200 and 415 or 201 and 415).
  • A research experience of internship in a related area.
  • Two Forensic Chemistry Courses. Of the two, one must be “Forensic Chemistry.” The other may either be “Forensic Applications of Mass Spectrometry” or “Forensic Methods and Applications for Biomolecule Analysis,” both will be listed as upper level Chemistry courses. All three courses will have a laboratory component.
  • In addition, students completing the Concentration are strongly encouraged to attend a meeting in a related area such as the American Academy of Forensic Science Annual Meeting.

Concentration Revisions
Several changes have been made.  First, while it seemed reasonable to call it a Concentration 4 years ago, the word now has other meanings on campus, so it will henceforth be known as a Specialization in the Chemistry Department.  Second, the Criminology and Justice Studies Department no longer offers CRJ 415; it now is CRJ 203.  Third, when we first began, the NJ State Police Lab was eager to establish and fund our summer internship program for TCNJ students.  Now, they’re faced with substantial budget cuts and had to delete this program, so the research/internship requirement will now be “highly recommended.”  There will also be a change in the program planner.  Some CFOR students have also chosen to minor in CRJ.  Since one can double count a single required course, our students were not able to apply their 2 CRJ courses towards their minor.  We now list the CRJ courses as correlate courses to the Concentration/Specialization and you can double count as many of those as you need to. (Tricky eh?)

The Forensic Chemistry Specialization (CFOR)

  • 2 CRJ Courses ( CRJ 200 and 203 or CRJ 201 and 203)
  • CHEM 360
  • CHEM 471 or 472
  • Research or internship strongly suggested

What Do Forensic Scientists Do? 

Source: AAFS, “So You Want to Be A Forensic Scientist”

The American Academy of Forensic Scientists provides a plethora of resources to students and professionals in the field. Below is information provided by the AAFS on a career in forensic science.

What is Forensic Science?
The word forensic comes from the Latin word forensis: public; to the forum or public discussion; argumentative, rhetorical, belonging to debate or discussion. From there it is a small step to the modern definition of forensic as belonging to, used in or suitable to courts of judicature, or to public discussion or debate. Forensic science is science used in public, in a court or in the justice system. Any science, used for the purposes of the law, is a forensic science.

What Do Forensic Scientists Do?
The forensic sciences form a vital part of the entire justice and regulatory system. Some of the different divisions, or disciplines, of forensic science have become identified primarily with law enforcement — an image enhanced by television and movies. This is misleading because forensic scientists are involved in all aspects of criminal cases, and the results of their work may serve either the defense or the prosecution. The forensic scientist’s goal is the evenhanded use of all available information to determine the facts and, subsequently, the truth.

The forensic scientist’s role in the civil justice arena is expanding. Issues range from questions of the validity of a signature on a will, to a claim of product liability, to questions of whether a corporation is complying with environmental laws, and the protection of constitutionally guaranteed individual rights.

Forensic science is a rewarding career where the love of science can be applied to the good of society, public health, and public safety.

The work of the forensic scientist may reduce the number of cases entering our overloaded court system by assisting the decision-makers before a case reaches the court. The facts developed by forensic scientists, based on scientific investigation, not circumstantial evidence or the sometimes unreliable testimony of witnesses, may convince prosecuting or defense attorneys, a grand jury, or a judge that an issue does not merit a court hearing.

The work of the forensic scientist at times proves the existence of a crime or makes connections to a crime. The forensic scientist provides information and expert opinion to investigators, attorneys, judges, and juries which is helpful in determining the innocence or guilt of the accused.

The rule of law is based on the belief that the legal process results in justice. This has come under some question in recent years. Of course, the forensic scientist cannot change skepticism and mistrust single-handedly. He can, however, contribute to restoring faith in judicial processes by using science and technology in the search for truth in civil, criminal, and regulatory matters.

The forensic scientist is entirely responsible for the work he performs; no one else can write his report nor testify to his opinion. However, it takes teamwork to solve a crime. Scientists work closely with police officers, sheriff’s deputies, prosecuting and defense attorneys, DEA, CIA, and FBI agents, immigration workers, and crime scene investigators, to name a few.

There is a strong requirement for accurate record keeping, chain-of-custody documentation, stringent quality control, and data management. Chain-of-custody guarantees that the integrity of evidence is maintained at all times. The time, date, location, and signature are required when transporting a piece of evidence within the laboratory or to an outside facility.

The forensic scientist, no matter where or by whom he is employed, works only for truth. He must make sure that the examination is complete, the tests performed are done correctly, the interpretation of the data is thorough, the written report is correct and easily understood by a non-scientist, and the testimony is complete and truthful. Anything less is not acceptable.

Testimony is the verbal statement of a witness, under oath, to the trier of fact, that is, the judge and/or jury. The ordinary witness can testify only on the basis of personal knowledge of a situation gained through the use of his five senses. He may not express opinions formed on any other basis. The forensic scientist, on the other hand, can testify not only on the basis of personal knowledge, but also in the form of opinion based on his informed evaluation of the evidence presented and scientific tests performed and interpreted within the bounds of his skills, experience, and ability. He is an “expert” witness as opposed to an ordinary or “fact” witness.

There are four criteria that are generally required to qualify a person as an expert witness. They are: educational degrees received, number of years of occupational experience in the field, membership in professional organizations, and professional articles or books that the person has published.

The forensic scientist, as an expert witness, must be able to explain complex chemical reactions, the working of scientific instruments, or medical conditions in simple everyday language understandable to anyone, not scientific jargon or “gobbledegook.” This is not easy. It is so difficult that before a new scientist is allowed to testify, a mock court is held so the scientist can learn how it feels to testify, and how to convert his hard-earned scientific knowledge into simple terms.

The forensic scientist must be impartial and unbiased. The forensic scientist must tell all of the truth, “the whole truth,” no matter what it is or whom it hurts or helps. An expert opinion can be offered only if there are scientific facts upon which to base it.

In court, the work of the forensic scientist is carefully examined to find any flaws, whether in the test performed, the interpretation of the results, or the science upon which opinion is based. Whether the forensic scientist “expert” is hired by the prosecution or defense, the opposing attorney will try to undermine or discredit testimony which is against his client.

The forensic witness must be qualified and knowledgeable of both his special area of scientific knowledge and expertise and the rules of evidence that govern the admissibility of opinions and conclusions.

The forensic scientist often spends long hours testifying clearly and concisely in judicial proceedings concerning scientific information and what it means. Throughout he must maintain a posture of impartial professionalism.

“If the law has made you a witness, remain a man of science.  You have no victim to avenge, no guilty or
innocent person to convict 
or save — you must bear testimony within the limits of science.”‘

— Dr. P.C.H. Brouardel
19th Century French Medico-legalist


Where To Go For Training

Special Topics
For your personal continuing education, or for classroom use, there are a variety of videotape/CD/DVD training tools available. For example, the catalog from Insight Media offers videotape training on topics in areas such as Forensic Science, Fire Science, Legal Issues, Terrorism and Domestic Violence.

The continuing education of forensic scientists, by attending workshops, meetings, and training for certification, is very important in this field. Obtaining exposure to related fields, and selecting some topics for expert training are important lifetime aspects of the job.

The Forensic Science Institute at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA is one of many institutions facilitating workshops. The 4th Annual Cedar Crest College Forensic Symposium is holding new comprehensive workshops that discuss topics concerning different apsects of forensic science.

  • Mass Disaster: WTC Experience
  • CSI Effect and Crime Lab Culture
  • Latent Fingerprint Comparison
  • Introduction of Low Copy Number DNA and Potential Application to Forensics
  • An Overview of Forensic Entomology
  • Forensic Ballistics and Tool Mark Analysis
  • An Introduction to Forensic Odontology
  • Examination of WTC Deaths by Polarized Light Microscopy

Students and Forensic Science Professionals alike are invited to attend these workshops which provide more extensive training, or serve as an unforgettable and pivotal learning experience; depending on your expertise. Visit Cedar Crest College for more information and online registration.

As a student, you may not attend many workshops, although you could. However, when you’re in a forensic science position, your employer will be happy to send you for training, so you should begin to become familiar with such workshops, and know where to find them.

Graduate / Doctoral Programs
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences maintains an extensive list of graduate and doctoral programs for those who wish to further pursue degrees in forensic science.


Fellowships / Internships

Oak Ridge Institute
We urge all science majors to bookmark Oak Ridge’s “Educational and Research Experiences for Undergraduates” homepage:

By accessing their ‘List of Sponsors,’ there are a substancial number of scholarship/fellowship/internship opportunities for you to consider:

For those interested in Forensic Chemistry, Oak Ridge handles and processes applications for undergraduates interested in 3 month to 1 year funded internships in the FBI’s Counterterrorism/Forensic Science Research Unit, at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. This is an opportunity to participate in the advancement of forensic science for the FBI Laboratory as well as federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Discciplines include forensic sciences, toxicology, all chemistry and biology subdisciplines. Applications are accepted year-round.

The Department of Homeland Security has a scholarship/internship program for rising juniors which offers an opportunity to participate in an educational program intended to ensure a diverse and highly talented science and technology human resource base to meet the mission, goals, and objectives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Disciplines include physical, biological, social and behavioral sciences, engineering, mathematics, and computer science. Application materials can easily be downloaded from the website.

Even if you’re not looking for something right now, paid research experiences are impressive to list on your resume, and they give you an opportunity to learn about an area of science and a major research laboratory in some detail. They also give you an opportunity to spend some time in another part of the country, although many research sites may be closer then you think!

TCNJ Career Services
TCNJ’s Office of Career Serivices offers a plethora of resources and tools for obtaining not only careers after graduation but internships and field experiences while earning your bachelor’s degree. Visit the The Career Center for more information on their resources and services.

Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Programs
The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds a large number of research opportunities for undergraduate students through its REU Sites program. An REU Site consists of a group of ten or so undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution. Each student is associated with a specific research project, where he/she works closely with the faculty and other researchers. Students are granted stipends and, in many cases, assistance with housing and travel.

By using the search page, you can examine opportunities in the subject areas supported by various NSF units. Also, you may search by keywords to identify sites in particular research areas or with certain features, such as a particular location.



Careers in Forensic Science

Education Requirements
What educational background to crime laboratory directors require from applicants for position in forensic science?

The following is a summary of the results from an educational survey mailed to the members of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors where crime lab directors listed their educational requirements from applicants for the positions of drug chemist, trace/impression evidence examiner, serologist/DNA analyst, and firearms/document examiner/fingerprint examiner. Full details are available in reference 1. Crime lab directors generally expect applicants to have ‘hard’ science degrees with a preference for the B.S. in chemistry, followed by biology and forensic science degrees with significant chemistry components. The summary of degree required for all positions combined was 63% B.S., 27% B.A., 6% none, 3% M.S. and 1% Ph.D. The degree specialty required was 41% Chemistry (including Biochemistry), 24% Biology (including Genetics and Molecular Biology), 22% Forensic Science, 7% Medical Laboratory Science and 6% Other (including 2% Physics and 1% Criminal Justice).

More importantly, perhaps, are the specific courses suggested by respondents, as the department wherein forensic science programs are based may not adequately reflect the actual coursework students complete in that program. The majority of responders require 1 to 2 semesters of math/statistics, variable amounts of biological sciences courses and 3 to 8 semesters of chemistry courses depending on the position. On average, the drug chemist position required 1.1 semesters of biological sciences and 7.8 semesters of chemistry, the trace position required 1.5 semesters of biology and 7.2 semesters of chemistry, the serology/DNA position required 5.4 semesters of biology and 5.5 semesters of chemistry and the firearms/document/fingerprint examiner position required 1.4 semesters of biology and 3.3 semesters of chemistry.

In summary, the results of this recent survey indicate that the majority of crime lab directors responding require applicants to have B.S. degrees with a preference for chemistry/biochemistry, followed by biology and forensic science with a requirement for a substantial number of chemistry and other natural science courses. These results reinforce the conclusions from previous surveys (2,3) stressing lab directors preference for applicants to have a strong chemistry background. Based on this survey and others, students interested in careers in crime laboratories are advised to complete Bachelor of Science degrees with a substantial number of chemistry courses.

The American Academy of Forensic Scientists provides a plethora of resources to students and professionals in the field. Below is information provided by the AAFS on a career in forensic science.

What’s A Forensic Scientist?
A forensic scientist is first a scientist. When he applies his scientific knowledge to assist juries, attorneys, and judges in understanding science, he is a forensic scientist.

Forensic scientists are thinkers, good with details, good with putting pieces of a puzzle together, and curious. Some scientists work in laboratories and some also go out to places where crimes are committed (crime scenes). Others teach in colleges and universities.

How Do I Become a Forensic Scientist?
You will need:

  • a bachelor’s degree — get one in science; some forensic sciences require advanced degrees; take chemistry, biology, math, English composition
  • good speaking skills — take public speaking, join the drama club, toastmasters, the debate team
  • good note-taking skills — you can’t subscribe to a service or depend on Cliffs Notes in real life!
  • the ability to write an understandable scientific report
  • intellectual curiosity
  • personal integrity

How Much Money Will I Make?
Income in the forensic sciences varies greatly depending upon your degree, your actual job, where you work, and how many hours you work. You may never “get rich” but you will have a good income. You will be satisfied with your job, knowing you are contributing to justice — keeping the good guys on the street and helping put the bad guys in jail. Forensic scientists work different hours, depending upon what they do. Some work in forensic laboratories and work 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday. Others work out in the field on digs and may work different hours. Still others are “on call” and work after their regular shift and receive overtime or compensatory (comp) time. Essentially every branch of forensic science offers opportunities for personal growth, career advancement, and increasing financial compensation.

Where Will I Work?
Forensic scientists work in laboratories, at crime scenes, in offices, and in morgues. They may work for federal, state and local government, forensic laboratories, medical examiners offices, hospitals, universities, toxicology laboratories, police departments, medical examiner/coroner offices, or as independent forensic science consultants.

Disaster Mortuary Operations Response Team (DMORT) is a branch of the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). Teams are sent on an “as needed” basis to mass disasters or large criminal cases. Members are sent for two weeks to any destination in the world and may extend their time as needed. DMORT is used to assist already existing forensic teams.


The Forensic Teacher
The Forensic Teacher is dedicated to helping forensic educators reach every student.  That means everyone from middle school to high school to college to the professional setting and more.  Their goal is to provide free quarterly articles, tips, and techniques, for anyone trying to teach forensics.
Subscription is FREE! Click Here to visit their website and subscribe!

Forensics Magazine
Keep ahead of the curve!Apply for a new magazine that’s not even out yet and get it free! Forensics magazine is a publication about technology, trends,products, and solutions for forensic professionals. Features include articles that focus on all aspects of forensic products, materials, and services; product news offering a look at what’s new and improved on the market; an industry calendar with meetings, workshops, and other educational opportunities; and news notes covering developments in the industry.

Subscription is FREE!
Click Here to visit their website and subscribe!

Advice About a Career in Forensic Science
Are you looking for a career in Forensics? Click Here to post your resume, search for new listings, and learn about careers in the sciences.

Useful Databases

National Institute of Standards and Technology

For over 30 years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Standard Reference Data Group (SRDG) has provided well-documented numeric data to scientists and engineers for use in technical problem-solving, research, and development. These recommended values are based on data which have been extracted from the world’s literature, assessed for reliability, and then evaulated to select preferred values. These data activities are conducted by scientists at NIST and in university data centers.

Follow the link under each heading & description to access the database.

  • Analytical Chemistry
    NIST provides a comprehensive set of easy-to-use databases and online systems that help the analytical chemist identify unknown materials and obtain physical, chemical, and spectroscopic data about known substances.
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics
    The NIST Atomic Physics Program produces the most comprehensive set of reliable atomic data available anywhere.The NIST collection of atomic energy levels, transition probabilities, and collision data is widely used by groups for characterizing and modeling all types of gaseous systems, including plasmas, planetary atmospheres, and astrophysical media, and for health physics applications. Databases and publications make these data easy to find and easy to use. The physics online databases have grown into an extensive listing. The NIST Chemistry WebBook now contains electronic and vibrational spectra for over 4000 compounds. The WebBook also contains constants of diatomic molecules.
  • Biometrics
    Biometrics is defined as the statistical analysis of biological observations and phenomena. The fingerprint and mugshot databases facilitate analysis for researchers in the law enforcement field.
  • Biotechnology
    NIST has developed several databases in the rapidly-growing field of biotechnology.
  • Chemical and Crystal Structure
    The Chemical and Crystal Structure category describes databases that are valuable tools for today’s chemists, physicists, and materials scientists. These databases identify compounds or look for insights into material structures. The NIST Crystal Database now covers the entire spectrum of well-characterized crystalline compounds, with 210,402 inorganic and organic compounds.
  • Chemical Kinetics
    The NIST Program on Chemical Kinetics has long been a source of reliable, critically evaluated data on gas-phase reactions. Over the years, data provided by the program have been instrumental in modeling and predicting many important scientific systems such as combustion chemistry, atmospheric changes related to ozone depletion and warming, plasmas, and free-radical chemistry.
  • Chemistry
    NIST has long been developing and compiling benchmark data for the properties of important substances, classes of substances and systems. It’s data collections, data prediction methods and models meet high priority industrial and national needs. The following list of databases contribute to U.S. industry’s productivity and competitiveness and improve public health, safety and environmental quality.
  • Environmental Data
    NIST data activities that support stewardship of the environment include remediation of environmental problems through the development of measurements, data, and models. NIST has served as a partner for both industry and measurement laboratories for many years in dealing with environmental concerns by providing the tools needed for sustainable development and the shared goals of environmental protection and socio-economic growth.
  • Fire
    NIST’s fire research software promotes fire safety for people, products, facilities, and enhances firefighter effectiveness. The ultimate goal is reduction in fatalities.
  • Fluids
    Providing reliable data on the thermophysical properties of fluid mixtures has been a primary area of focus of NIST. A set of combined theoretical and empirical predictive techniques have been developed that rest firmly on evaluated data. These techniques have been tested and incorporated into interactive computer programs that generate a large variety of properties based upon the specified composition and the appropriate state variables.
  • Law Enforcement
    NIST has long applied science and technology to the needs of the criminal justice community, including law enforcement, corrections, forensic science, and the fire service. NIST collaborates with national law enforcement technology centers, the forensic community and all segments of the criminal justice community.
  • Material Properties
    The NIST Materials Data Program provides evaluated data on phase equilibria, structure and characterization, and performance properties.
  • Mathematical Databases, Software, and Tools
    NIST provides technical expertise to modern analytical and computational methods for solving scientific problems of interest to American industry. This is accomplished by mathematical modeling, design of methods, transformation of these methods into efficient numerical algorithms for high-performance computers and the implementation of these methods into high-quality mathematical software.
  • Physics
    The NIST collection of atomic energy levels, transition probabilities, and collision data is widely used by groups for characterizing and modeling all types of gaseous systems, including plasmas, planetary atmospheres, and astrophysical media, and for health physics applications. Databases and publications make these data easy to find and easy to use. The physics online databases have grown into an extensive listing. The NIST Chemistry WebBook now contains electronic and vibrational spectra for over 4000 compounds. The WebBook also contains constants of diatomic molecules.
  • Surface Data
    The surface data category highlights databases that allow surface scientists, tribologists, and analytical chemists to analyze surfaces of materials.
  • Thermophysical & Thermochemical
    NIST has a long history as the source for reliable thermochemical data starting from the 1920s with the International Critical Tables. The tradition continues as new NIST databases on thermochemical properties of inorganic and small organic molecules gain acceptance.

For a complete list of databases and advanced searching options, visit the NIST Data Gateway.


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