Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsThere is more interest now in forensic science now than at any previous time in its history. There are more students studying "forensic" courses around the world than ever before, and there is a seemingly endless list of TV dramas that are evidence of huge popular interest in the subject. In real life, forensic science can attract enormous media attention in high-profile cases. More importantly, forensic science now provides "leads" in police investigations and evidence for prosecutions that was previously unattainable. Dramatic scientific breakthroughs, in the past 20 years or so, particularly the discovery of DNA profiling and the development of DNA and fingerprint databases, have revolutionised forensic science.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 secondsEvidence can be obtained from microscopic traces of body fluids, drugs, and explosives of sufficient quality for it to be pivotal in an investigation or trial. In many countries there has been a parallel revolution in how the police investigate crime. It is probably more effective, faster, and more reliable to investigate the crimes that affect us most such as burglary and car theft using DNA and fingerprints than by traditional police methods. In major crime, such as homicide, forensic scientists have moved from being backroom boffins to the forefront of international investigations. Forensic science is now firmly embedded in the criminal justice agenda since it can answer investigative questions in many instances better than any other means available.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 secondsDespite this, understanding of forensic science is generally poor. In relation to the general public there are two main reasons for this. Firstly reliable information about forensic science is hard to come by - it is kept confidential to ensure it does not fall into the wrong hands and to protect witnesses. This often remains so even after the case is complete. Secondly, most of the information that is available is provided by the news and entertainment media who in many cases have no better access to information than the general public. TV shows, such as CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), use hi-tech imagery for dramatic effect at the expense of understanding of an increasingly important part of the criminal justice process.

Skip to 2 minutes and 34 secondsCSI is a great show - just don't confuse it with reality!

Skip to 2 minutes and 40 secondsEven professionals have difficulty directly accessing forensic science laboratories. Today’s DNA anti contamination procedures will in many instances prevent even police and prosecutors from entering certain parts of the laboratory. And whilst we can't take you into a real laboratory, we will provide you with real insight into the world of forensic science - how it works, who is involved, why it needs to be done the way it is, and how cases are solved.

Skip to 3 minutes and 12 secondsOur aim in this MOOC is to open this world to you and provide you with an understanding of the basic principles of forensic science, how these practises link to a criminal inquiry, how crime scenes are managed, how evidence is recovered, and what the key stages, processes and personnel involved are. So whilst this will not make you an expert you will receive direct and realistic information of what actually goes on in laboratories and at crime scenes. We hope this journey will provide insights and stir your imagination and enthusiasm for the subject.

Welcome to your course

A welcome to ‘Introduction to Forensic Science’ from Professor Jim Fraser of the University of Strathclyde (2004-2015).

It is impossible to cover the whole of forensic science, even at an introductory level, in six weeks. Rather than attempting that, we have adopted a case-based approach which sets out the fundamental principles applying to any investigation where forensic science is involved.

What you will see is a structured flow beginning in week one at the place where forensic science begins, namely the scene of the incident. The incident itself is the glue that binds the course as we move to explore four core but quite different examples of forensic science in weeks 2 to 5, ending in week 6 with a review of how forensic science contributed to the investigation and closure of the case.

At the end of some weeks (week one is one of these) you’ll have the opportunity to ask the course experts any questions you have relating to the course and indeed the ‘Murder by the Loch’ case! Our first ‘Ask Penny’ will address some of the themes covered in week one of the course. This will include what you think about forensic science and the crime scene investigation process.

Each week is introduced by a short presentation from Professor Jim Fraser.

We’d also be grateful if you could complete the pre-course survey to help us understand more about who’s taking the course and what we can do to improve it.

Unlike some other FutureLearn courses, we open the course a week at a time – part of the learning process is about reflecting on the direction our thinking is going and we don’t want to spoil our examination of the case study by giving too much away too soon!

Warning

Some of content presented in this course may be distressing to individuals, particularly younger learners. Notwithstanding, the material is representative of that encountered by forensic scientists and we have presented it in an objective and professional manner.

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Introduction to Forensic Science

University of Strathclyde