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What is Forensic Chemistry?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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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.

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.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a All The Science contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon257475 — On Mar 27, 2012

How do forensics lead to crime detection?

By anon90031 — On Jun 14, 2010

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.

By anon55975 — On Dec 10, 2009

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

By anon53572 — On Nov 22, 2009

This helps. Thank you.

By anon47477 — On Oct 05, 2009

nefsu, that's illegal, sorry.

By anon43530 — On Aug 29, 2009

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.

By anon41943 — On Aug 18, 2009

Why is forensic chemistry important?

By anon40060 — On Aug 05, 2009

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

By nefsu — On Jul 04, 2008

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

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a All The Science contributor, Tricia...
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