10 Most Surprising Facts About Forensic Science

There’s something exciting about science with all its hypotheses and experiments, the lab coats and goggles. But there’s something so noble about working for the police, FBI or CIA. The perfect job for those interested in science and who want to help solve crimes is forensic science. You might be surprised to learn 10 shocking facts about forensic science that could get you even more interested in pursuing a career in the field.

10 – Maggots Solve Crimes

OK, so bugs don’t actually solve crimes, but the forensic scientists studying bugs, such as maggots on corpses, can play a crucial role in solving mysteries. Forensic entomology is the science of studying insects at a crime scene. The contents of a maggot’s belly, for example, can give clues as to how long a body has been decomposing.

09 – Forensic Science Has Been Around for a Long Time

Some fields of forensic science, such as the aforementioned entomology, date back to the 13th century — in China, at least. There’s a book called “The Washing Away of Wrongs” from 1235 A.D. that details how the large amount of flies gathering on a sickle — due to nearly invisible blood — lead a murderer to admit his guilt.

08 – Many Methods Aren’t Foolproof…

In the modern age of forensic science, it seems like there’s no way for a murderer to escape punishment if there’s forensic data, and there’s no way that data can be wrong. However, three of the most common methods of convicting a person — fingerprinting, DNA and bullet ballistics — aren’t 100-percent accurate. This is why on all those afternoon talk shows, you might hear the host say “Daniel, you ARE the father!” but the truth of the matter is, there could be a .1 percent chance Daniel is NOT the father.

07 – …But Teeth Records Are

Teeth records, on the other hand, generally are the most reliable identifiers and are used to identify a body correctly in around 93 percent of cases. Teeth are made of the same material as bones, and bones last a long time — far longer than any tissue.

06 – Testing Takes Longer Than on TV

On TV, forensic scientists race to test a sample and nail a criminal in what seems like hours. However, testing samples takes much longer than the hour it takes for the detectives on “Law & Order: SVU” to solve a case. A wait time of two to three weeks is not uncommon, which is why police have to come up with other probable causes for arrest while they wait.

05 – Fingerprint Matching Used to Be Cumbersome

Before the AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), professionals had to try to match fingerprints by eye, comparing the sample to a physical copy of fingerprints on records. Not only was this less accurate, but it was also time-consuming, and to have a chance at success, you needed to have an idea of who the suspect might be instead of being able to match the prints with everyone included in the database.

04 – Analysts Used to Measure Bodies

Before fingerprint collection, some forensic scientists, such as the ancient Chinese, used a system of measuring bodies to try to uncover identities. In other words, they kept records of how tall local citizens were, as well as how long their limbs were, and then compared the measurements of missing persons against bodies found.

03 – Hair Roots Reveal Gender

Hairs found at the scene reveal crucial evidence, but only hairs with roots attached reveal the gender of the person. DNA is only present in the root itself, and it’s that strand of biological material that scientists use to determine gender.

02 – There Are Only 4 Fiber Types

There are only four types of fibers in the world, so there are only four types of fibers forensic scientists encounter in their analyses: vegetable, mineral, animal and man-made.

01 – Scientists Decompose Bodies

When is a decomposing body in a field not a reason to call the cops? When forensic scientists put it there. As The Daily Mail reports, forensic scientists use donated cadavers to study the effects of natural decomposition. Forensic scientists know that when they’re working on a case, they are more likely to encounter a decomposing body in a field than an in-tact body in the lab, so they aim to replicate what they’re likely to find.
Surprising facts about forensic science are fascinating to the mind most suited to a career in the field. Every day as a forensic scientist, you could be participating in what seems strange to the layperson. Walk the path of a forensic scientist and in a few years, you’ll be telling your own fascinating stories about your chosen career.

About the Author: Morgan Kennedy is a forensic scientist with over 15 years in the field. He’s a frequent guest speaker on forensic science topics, and he blogs regularly on the industry. (photo credit / Yumi Kimura)