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What is Forensic Chemistry?

A forensic chemist may study blood samples taken from a crime scene.
A forensic chemist may study samples of fibers from clothing to determine whether an individual was present at a crime scene.
A forensic chemist may work in the field collecting evidence from crime scenes.
A forensic chemist might examine samples from a crime scene.
Forensic chemists might look for chemicals that would indicate arson in a fire investigation.
Forensic chemists use laboratory tests to detect the presence of clues like blood or gunpowder residue on items recovered from crime scenes.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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Forensic chemistry is a field of chemistry dedicated to the analysis of various substances that might be important or might have been used in the commission of a crime. A forensic chemist might also evaluate substances that could prove dangerous to others. For example, a powder sent in the mail that looks like it could be anthrax would be analyzed by this chemistry professional. Though in the past, many people who worked in this field had general bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and minors in criminal studies, today, many universities now offer specific degrees in forensic chemistry.

Viewers of television programs like CSI have seen depictions of forensic chemistry. These chemists don’t only microscopically examine and identify blood or tissue matter, but also a variety of substances. For instance, if crime scene investigators believe that someone has been drugged, a chemists might look through all materials taken from a crime scene to try to determine the presence of specific drugs. In fact, even in a drug bust, where a person is carrying a small or large amount of a controlled substance, any apparent drugs taken as evidence must be verified by a chemist by looking at their chemical compounds. Alternately, this professional might evaluate various samples of fibers, such as from clothing or carpet, to attempt to identify someone’s presence at a crime scene.

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Though many people in this field work in chemistry labs only, some do work in the field collecting evidence. Knowledge of physics could take a forensic chemist to a crime scene to look at blood patterns to determine how accidental or intentional injury occurred. These chemists may work at scenes where explosions or fires have occurred, to try to determine what happened. As much as they may be evaluating a scene to decide if a crime took place, they might be able to rule out malicious intent through examining patterns of fire and looking for certain chemicals associated with bomb making or arson.

Forensic chemists are trained in organic chemistry so that they can run analysis on blood and other body samples to identify DNA, and to run toxicology screens. They, therefore, look at matter from the chemist’s point of view to glean greater information about a substance, person, or crime, for a variety of reasons.

People who earn degrees in forensic chemistry may work at private labs, local police departments, coroner’s offices, fire departments, with bomb squads, in the military, or at national agencies like the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Some are specialists in certain kinds of identification — forensic chemists might become experts on chemicals associated with explosives, for instance. At minimum, those in the field have bachelor’s degrees, but those who want to teach or develop new investigatory techniques may have master’s degrees or PhDs.

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Discuss this Article

anon257475
Post 14

How do forensics lead to crime detection?

anon90031
Post 12

anon55795, consider the following:

In Mexico, you can poses up to a half a gram of cocaine legally. You buy on the street 1 gram of staff but its purity is 20 percent.

Will you be arrested for possession for more than the legally allowed amount of cocaine?

That's how it relates to percentage composition for example.

anon55975
Post 8

How does it relate to finding molar mass or percentage composition or limiting and excess reagents or law of definite proportions??

anon53572
Post 7

This helps. Thank you.

anon47477
Post 5

nefsu, that's illegal, sorry.

anon43530
Post 4

Forensic chemistry is important because without it, we wouldn't know the outcome of a crime. The forensic chemist's job is to examine evidence given to them from a crime scene to determine what happened at a crime scene, when it happened, and possibly who committed the crime.

anon41943
Post 3

Why is forensic chemistry important?

anon40060
Post 2

after m.sc in analytical chemistry are there any courses related to forensic chemistry?

nefsu
Post 1

Is there any one who can tell me how to run studer digimedia database software without a dongle ?

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