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Course Date: 11 August 2014 to 06 October 2014 (8 weeks)
Understand how basic scientific principles underpin forensic science and can contribute to solving criminal cases.
Roderick Bates is an
Organic Chemist by training, but has been teaching Forensic Science by accident
since 2005. He earned a PhD from Imperial College, London and followed this
with postdoctoral work at Colorado State University. After academic positions
in North Texas, Bangkok, Thailand and Exeter, England, he settled in Singapore.
He is currently an Associate Professor of Chemistry. In addition to Forensic
Science, he also teaches Organic Chemistry and is the author of a text book
called “Organic Synthesis using Transition Metals” which will not be of interest
to students in this 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 topics to be
How did forensics
come about? What is the role of forensics in policework? 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?
(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 the Emperor
Napoleon murdered by the perfidious British, or killed by his wallpaper?
Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment
after completing this class? Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a
Statement of Accomplishment.
What resources will I need for this class?
For this course, all you need is an Internet connection, and
the time to read, write, and discuss, with your peers.
What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I
take this class?
This course aims to help everyone
understand more on how basic
scientific principles underpin forensic science and can contribute to solving
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 understand 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 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 discussion of the different kinds of fibre, 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.
Synopsis: Poisoning, accidental, deliberate or occupational dates back
into the mists of antiquity. In this section, different aspects of toxicology
are introduced and Paracelsus’ concept of poison is discussed. Specific
poisons, such as arsenic, sarin and thallium, are discussed in detail.
Classifying harmful substances.
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 Kacynski; The
Soham Murders; Dr Crippen
The class will consist of:
Lecture videos about 3 - 20 minutes in length
3 Graded Multiple Choice Quizzes (MCQ) (75% of total assessment)
2 Graded Case Study Assignments which will involve Peer-to-Peer Assessment (20% of total assessment)
5 Graded Polling (5% of total assessment)
Students in this course may also wish to refer to:
“Criminalistics” (New International Ed. or 10th
Edition) Richard Saferstein (Pearson).
“Henry Lee’s Crime Scene Handbook” Henry C Lee
Scene to Court” P C White (Ed) (Royal
Society of Chemistry).
Illustrated Guide to Forensics” Zakaria Erzinclioglu