How Technology Has Shaped Forensic Science

While there is no doubt that modern advances in technology have led to numerous crimes being solved that would have been dismissed as a cold case decades ago, there hasn’t always been the technological advances in the field. The early days of forensic science must have been quite frustrating for detectives with a lack of options, outside of their own skills of inquiry and a trusty magnifying glass. Modern marvels such as DNA analysis or image enhancement technologies, have made forensic science easier in one respect. However, the methods of criminals have changed with advancement of technology as well. Forensic scientists not only solve for murders and other violent crimes, but for chemical attacks, cyber crimes, and any other acts of violence that come with the modern territory.

How exactly has forensic science changed over time? Here is a run down of some of the advances made in forensic technology along with other important milestones in forensics history that date all the way back from the 1200’s to today, with a variety of forensic applications. By the time you complete your forensics degree, there will be even more technology at your disposal.

Historical Timeline

  • 1248. The Washing Away of Wrongs by Song Ci, a Chinese doctor, is the first written evidence we have of forensic science being used, such as learning the difference between death by strangulation and death by drowning.
  • 1598. Italian doctor Fortunatus Fidelis begins practice; he is considered the first person to practice modern forensic medicine, defined as “application of medical knowledge to legal questions.”
  • 1854. Police in San Francisco begin to use photography to identify criminals.
  • 1880. Modern fingerprint identification techniques begin to develop. In the British scientific journal Nature, Englishmen Henry Faulds and William James Herschel describe the uniqueness of each persons’ fingerprints.
  • 1888. Chicago is the first U.S. city to adopt the Bertillon system of identification, a technique of human body measurement used in anthropological classification to the identification of criminals.
  • 1899. First use of police cars in Akron, Ohio.
  • 1921. While still a medical student at the University of California, John Larson invents the modern lie detector, also known as the polygraph.
  • 1923. The first dedicated crime laboratory in a police department is implemented in Los Angeles.
  • 1948. Founding of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).
  • 1996. The National Academy of Sciences declare that there is no reason to doubt the conclusions of DNA evidence.

Modern Breakthroughs

Now that we’ve seen the history, here are a few modern breakthroughs in forensic technology and analysis, applicable in a variety of fields within forensics.

  • LABRADOR. The cleverly named LABRADOR (Light-weight Analyzer for Buried Remains and Decomposition Odor Recognition) is a device used to “sniff” out various chemicals that are released by decaying bodies. Highly useful with missing persons reports.
  • Chemical Forensics. Similarly, a chemist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is devising a forensic technique that can detect the source of impurities within chemicals, that could lead to finding criminals in a terrorist attack.
  • Blood Spatter Improvements. Physicists at Washington State University have recently developed a mathematical way to analyze blood spatter and plotting how blood droplets will fall from a ceiling or wall.
  • Forensic Ballistics. Numerous advancements in ballistics technology have been made using 3D imaging. Analysis of these projections can help determine where a weapon was fired based on shells and cartridges.
  • Cyber Hacking. With recent events such as the Sony hacks and the attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, digital forensic experts are using the latest in computer technology to track down the perpetrators of these crimes.
  • Alternative Light in Forensic Nursing. Forensic nursing is a very specific concentration of forensics. Use of alternative light photography can help nurses care for patients while maintaining the integrity of evidence as well.

While new technologies may not yet be fool-proof, DNA analysis is still considered the primary route of forensic analysis. The newest of these technologies is called Snapshot, which takes DNA info and translates it into possible physical traits of suspected criminals. To read more about these advances, here is an academic paper from North Carolina Central University exploring the vast detail to which DNA analysis has advanced. Updates continue in the field every day, making forensic science both an important and exciting career.

What are the most popular degrees in forensic science?

In order to work in forensic science or criminal justice, you’ll need to obtain a degree related to the field. Our list of schools will help you find the right program that meets your specific career goals.

Kaplan University
Kaplan University

  • HLC
  • NCA
Liberty University
Liberty University

  • SACS
Saint Joseph’s University
Saint Joseph’s University

  • MSA
Ashford University
Ashford University

  • WASC

Click here to see more online forensic science degrees