About the Course
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 questions which we will attempt to address include:
- How did forensics
come about? What is the role of forensics in police work? 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
- Can a little piece
of a carpet fluff, or a single hair, convict someone?
- Was Emperor
Napoleon murdered by the perfidious British, or killed by his wallpaper?
Topic: Introduction to Forensic Science
- 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; Jetkor Miang Singh; Roberto
Calvi; Buck Ruxton & the Jigsaw Murders; The 2005 London bombings; "Brides in the Bath"; Gareth Williams; The Woodchipper Murder
Topic 1: Atomic Structure & Spectroscopy
- 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 appreciate 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: Molecular Spectroscopy & Chromatography
- 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 Narcotics and Toxicology.
Topic 1: Time of Death
- Synopsis: 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 also discussed.
- Case studies in this section: Christopher Nudds; Lord Lucan
- 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 & Joanne Lees
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
- Case studies in this section: The Pioneering Stratton Brothers; the Brandon
Topic 2: Polymers & 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 a discussion of the different kinds of fibre, and 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
- Synopsis: A survey of some of the more significant drugs is presented.
- Case studies in this section: "Krokodil"
- Synopsis: Poisoning - accidental, deliberate or occupational - dates back
into the mists of antiquity. In this section, different aspects of Toxicology
are introduced, Paracelsus’ concept of poison is discussed, and harmful substances are classified. Specific
poisons such as arsenic, sarin and thallium, are discussed in detail.
- 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
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
- Case studies in this section: The King in the Carpark; Annie Le; Peter
Griffiths; JonBenét Ramsey; George Metesky; Rachel Nickell; Ted Kaczynski; The
Soham Murders; Dr. Crippen