Forensic Chemistry

A mysterious white powder, a blood smear, and a moldy ham sandwich—completely unrelated items to most. But they could be meaningful for forensic chemists, who analyze physical evidence and samples for clues to solve crimes. Television shows such as Bones, CSI, and Dexter have glamorized forensic scientists and made the field more popular, so competition can be intense. However, if you have a strong desire to shape the world of justice by using science to solve crime puzzles, then a career in forensic science could be worth pursuing.

Technical Skills

  • Excellent experimental technique and a strong background in instrumentation and quantitative/qualitative analysis are the main technical skills used in this field.
  • Being detail oriented is crucial for a forensic scientist, since the slightest detail can make a huge difference in the interpretation of a sample.
  • Critical thinking skills and problem solving skills are required to interpret the results of chemical tests and help determine exactly what happened at the crime scene.
  • Forensic scientists often have to explain their findings to other law enforcement officers or provide expert testimony in a court of law, so excellent oral communication skills—even under duress—are required.
  • Written communication skills are required for preparation of detailed reports that will stand up to intense scrutiny by both sides of the law.

Career Path

Forensic science technicians receive 6 to 12 months of on-the-job training to learn DNA analysis and receive up to 3 years of training for firearms analysis. In some cases, they must pass a proficiency test before being allowed to handle cases on their own. Throughout their career, they must stay up-to-date on advances in both collection and
analysis of evidence.
Most forensic chemists spend their career working at a federal, state, or county lab associated with the medical examiner’s office. However, there are different types of careers available, including those in other fields of forensic science, academia, or administration. Chemists can also move up within an organization to a position as the director of a crime lab supervising other forensic scientists rather than being involved in day-to-day analysis. A director is also responsible for case review and general lab management.

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