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Forensic scientist: Job description

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Forensic scientists provide impartial scientific evidence for use in courts of law to support the prosecution or defence in criminal and civil investigations.

They are primarily concerned with searching for and examining contact trace material associated with crimes. This material can include:

  • blood and other body fluids;
  • hairs;
  • fibres from clothing;
  • paint and glass fragments;
  • tyre marks;
  • and flammable substances used to start fires.

Although evidence is usually presented in writing as a formal statement of evidence or report, forensic scientists may have to attend court to give their evidence in person.

Typical work activities

Job activities depend on the area of forensics in which you work. The main areas are:

  • chemistry, which is connected to crimes against property, such as burglary and arson;
  • biology, which is connected to crimes against people, such as murder, assault and rape;
  • drugs and toxicology.

Within these areas, the work usually involves:

  • chemistry - the examination of paint, chemicals, etc., including fire investigation and accident reconstruction;
  • biology - DNA testing and the examination of minute contact traces, such as blood, hair, clothing fibres, etc.;
  • drugs and toxicology - testing for restricted drugs, examining tissue specimens for poison detection, and the analysis of blood and urine samples for alcohol, for example in drink driving offences.

However, there is a degree of cross-over and typical work activities are likely to include some or all of the following:

  • analysing samples, such as hair, body fluids, glass, paint and drugs, in the laboratory;
  • applying techniques such as gas and high performance liquid chromatography, scanning electron microscopy, mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy and genetic fingerprinting;
  • sifting and sorting evidence, often held in miniscule quantities;
  • attending and examining scenes of crimes;
  • recording findings and collecting trace evidence from scenes of crimes or accidents;
  • inputting relevant data into computer programs;
  • reviewing and supervising the work of assistants;
  • presenting results of work in written form or by giving oral evidence;
  • justifying findings under cross-examination in courts of law;
  • researching and developing new techniques;
  • liaising with team members;
  • coordinating with outside agencies and offering expert advice;
  • analysing and interpreting results and computer data;
  • liaising with police to establish forensic strategies;
  • writing detailed reports for court;
  • instructing on procedures for cases.
 
 
AGCAS
Written by AGCAS editors
Date: 
December 2014
 

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