Forensic science is a broad discipline within the sciences and the law enforcement community which uses science to answer questions pertaining to legal situations, including criminal and civil cases. Within forensic science, there are a number of individual disciplines, ranging from forensic anthropology to forensic veterinary science. Practitioners in this field are part of an ancient tradition in which the facts of legal cases are analyzed in a scientific manner to gain information which can be used in investigation and eventual prosecution.
Numerous cultures have a long history of using forensic science in legal investigations, ranging from Archimedes, who used information about buoyancy to prove that a gold crown was a fake, to Chinese investigators who fingered criminals by asking suspects to present farm implements and waiting to see which implement flies settled on, indicating the presence of blood. Interest in the forensic sciences exploded in the 20th century with the general advancement of scientific knowledge, including the development of tools like DNA analysis and complex chemical analysis which proved to be invaluable for forensic science.
Within the field of forensic biology, which applies biology to living organisms involved in criminal cases, one can find forensic botany, forensic odontology, forensic entomology, forensic pathology, veterinary forensics, and forensic anthropology. Some other examples of fields in forensic science include forensic psychology, forensic meteorology, forensic chemistry, forensic engineering, forensic psychiatry, forensic geology, forensic photography, forensic document examination, forensic chemistry, digital forensics, and forensic archeology.
Practitioners of forensic science have extensive training in their field of expertise, paired with training in handling evidence to maintain the chain of custody and integrity of the evidence. They are skilled at evaluating evidence from a crime scene using the principles of the scientific method, and they can generate reports based on factual material which can help members of law enforcement find criminals and successfully convict them. They can also testify in court about how evidence was gathered, handled, and analyzed, and about the types of equipment used in forensic laboratories to gather information from evidence.
This field is far from a magic bullet. It can take time and patience to get useful results from a forensic scientist, and forensic scientists are not infallible. Some of the practices within this discipline have been called into question and challenged on legal grounds, especially when they were new, and some historic trends in forensic science have been soundly debunked, such as phrenology, the study of bumps on the human head to gain insights into character.