Forensic science is the scientific method of gathering and examining information about the past. This is especially important in law enforcement where forensics is done in relation to criminal or civil law, but forensics are also carried out in other fields, such as astronomy, archaeology, biology and geology to investigate ancient times.
Most commonly, forensic scientists apply scientific procedures and techniques to the examination of potential evidence that may assist in legal investigations.
A wide range of expertise is required for forensic investigations.
A forensic scientist may specialise in chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, botany, pharmacology, toxicology, crime scene examination, firearms examination, fingerprint or document examination.
Forensic scientists may perform the following tasks:
- identify illicit drugs
- analyse drugs and poisons in human tissue and body fluids, including blood alcohol results
- examine and compare materials such as fibres, paints, cosmetics, oils, fuels, plastics, glass, metals, soils and gunshot residues
- examine human and animal biological material to be compared with victims and suspects using DNA profiling
- conduct botanical identification of plant materials at trace levels and whole-plant identification (cannabis, for example)
- conduct document examinations, both physical (such as handwriting and typewriting) and chemical (such as analysis of inks and papers)
- analyse computers and obtain data from electronic devices
- examine crime scenes
- identify firearms and ammunition (forensic ballistics)
- detect, enhance, recover and identify latent fingerprints, footprints, tool marks, shoe marks, tyre marks and tracks
- examine fire and explosion scenes to establish the origin and cause
- improve the clarity of, and analyse, audio and video recordings
- produce reports, appear in court and present scientific and/or opinion testimony accurately and in a manner that is readily understood by the court
- make presentations to a wide variety of audiences on the work of forensic scientists
- keep in contact with, and provide advice to, police investigators, legal practitioners, scientists and pathologists across a broad range of disciplines.