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Forensic science: identifying perpetrators and exonerating the innocent

Dr Lisa Smith, lead educator of the University of Leicester’s free online course, Forensic Science and Criminal Justice starting 31 March on FutureLearn.com talks about what learners can expect to study.

Forensic science and criminal justice

Over the past three decades the criminal justice system has been dramatically affected by technological advances in scientific contributions to the law. We decided to draw on this and create a course that would expand people’s understanding of the science and its application for both identifying perpetrators and exonerating the innocent. The course covers a range of themes and considers what the future of forensic science looks like in the years to come.

In developing our free online course, we wanted to give learners a deeper understanding of one of the most influential developments and one which the university has pioneered. In 1984, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys invented DNA profiling in the Genetics Department at the University of Leicester, and this is now used all over the world both for identifying perpetrators and exonerating the innocent. During this course we will consider how DNA is used in criminal investigations, and also some of the controversies that arise concerning the use of DNA databases.

Although there have been some extraordinary victories for the forensic science community in recent years, there has also more recently been scepticism about the infallibility of some forensic science practices, and the interpretation of physical evidence in the courtroom.

This course is designed to take you through the past, present and future of forensic science. This free course begins by introducing students to the historical context of forensic science and how science is used by the police during criminal investigations. We then move on to explore some of the implications that these forensic techniques have on the criminal justice system including looking at controversial topics like biometric databases which are stirring heavy criticism from civil rights groups and data security advocates.

We will also look at the portrayal of forensic science in popular media. The worldwide success of TV shows like CSI highlights our love of solving mysteries. In our MOOC you will get a chance to explore some of the techniques you see in these programmes and we will help distinguish science fact from media fiction.

Finally, we will consider what the future of forensic science looks like and where the discipline and science we use today may be heading in the years to come.

We hope that you will enjoy the free online course and actively engage in our material through taking part in the discussion sessions with other participants and interaction with the educators. We have been delighted with the reaction so far but if you haven’t already, please join here.

Our staff are world leaders in their field and continue to push the boundaries of discovery. We have used these insights, our skills and above all passion to create this new MOOC. I’m really looking forward to engaging with all of our learners and hope you will enjoy finding out more about Forensic Science and Criminal Justice.

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