A murder victim can no longer speak like you and I can, but through scientific methods they may have an awful lot to say. This is the science of forensics, and there are many branches of it.
Forensics has been popularized by many TV show, books, and movies. Everyone is familiar with the fast-paced crime solving that is showcased: a piece of evidence gets delivered to a crime lab, within hours or mere minutes it is analyzed, and the forensic scientist is off to capture the criminal.
In reality, what forensic scientists do is a bit different. They rarely, if ever, visit a crime scene, and they certainly don’t chase down suspects, gun in hand, after spending an hour in the lab doing DNA analysis. A typical forensic scientist spends their entire day in the lab. Most DNA takes about 30 days to process due to budgetary constraints and the vast number of cases.
Despite not usually doing filed work, the excitement and rewards of being part of a successful case and of capturing a criminal are just as satisfying.
Forensics is a large, diversified field. A few of the branches include psychology, accounting, botany, entomology (insects), dactyloscopy (fingerprints), microbiology or the study of the necrobiome (organisms related to a decaying corpse, toxicology, and anthropology).
Forensic anthropology is considered one of the most fascinating fields. It deals with skeletonized, decomposed, burned, or otherwise unrecognizable human remains, such as in a plane crash. A forensic anthropologist works through an intricate puzzle, finding clues in the tiniest details. These scientists often work with others in the field such as dentists, pathologists, investigators, and other expert scientists.
Forensic anthropologists can use their knowledge to determine age, sex, ancestry, and stature from a minuscule amount of human remains. They can also look into a body’s history; past injuries indicated by bone fractures, or evidence of diseases such as cancer. All of these details will narrow down the identification of a person.
Even though forensic anthropology is now in the realm of hard science, it got its start with pseudoscience. Phrenology and physiognomy, early notions that temperament and character can be deduced from physical appearance, were early forms of forensic anthropology that have since been discarded as junk science.
Today, forensic anthropology is a highly trusted means to discover the truth behind a crime. Each year, more tools are added to this arsenal as scientific advances are made.