Friday, 15 May 2015

Careers In Chemistry: Forensic Science

Hi again, everyone! Now we're through all of our unit posts, it is time to take a look at what options are out there for those interested in pursuing chemistry as a career. Hopefully the posts on this blog and all the others, have inspired you to realize how multi-faceted chemistry is and how much behind the scenes work it plays in our daily lives. So unsurprisingly, there are a lot of jobs out there concerning chemistry! Today we're going to highlight forensic scientists - specifically forensic chemists - and why their job is awesome!

Read on to find out WHAT forensic science is, WHO is doing it, WHY it's an awesome chemistry career, HOW to get a job doing it, and WHERE to study.

So what is forensic science? Forensic science is the study and analysis of physical evidence and samples to help law enforcement solve crimes. Using a variety of techniques and processes, forensic chemists unravel and reconstruct what actually happened at a crime scene based on evidence provided. A well trained, advanced forensic chemist should be able to determine the composition and nature of materials, predict the source, and match sample to sample. Forensic science encompasses organic and inorganic analysis, toxicology, arson investigation, and serology. Most of the time, samples are not handed over as pure substances, but rather often mixed in with dirt or other gross stuff. One of the toughest and most exciting parts of forensic science is separating out these individual components and figuring out what went where (Massey, 2009). Pretty cool, huh?

Who are the notable players in the field of forensic science? Any Canadians up in there? Professor Tracy Rogers, director of the forensic science program at the University of Toronto, is one of the leading forensic scientists in the world. She is the lead forensic anthropologist at the Pickton pig farm in B.C, the largest crime site in Canada and also worked on the Tim Bosma mystery case. She works on the identification of unknown skeletal remains, skeletal sex determination, skeletal techniques for assessing the ancestry/biogeographical origin of the deceased, and the positive identification of decomposing human remains. She also researches the application of new technologies to the analysis of outdoor crime scenes and hidden graves (University of Toronto, 2012).

Why is the world of forensic science a good career option for those interested in chemistry? Forensic science encompasses many scientific disciplines, including chemistry, biology, physics, and anthropology. It's a study that demands excellence, intelligence and innovation (Maclean's, 2011). It's rigorous and demanding work, for sure, but extremely rewarding. You're literally helping to catch criminals and solve major crimes! For example, some of Dr. Tracy Roger's work at the Pickton pig farm involved 'trawling' for remains over a 14 hectare site and a 16 hectare, sorting out human bones from animal, those relevant to the case, etc...She went in looking for around 69 sets of bones! Then she had to distinguish between whose bones were belonged to which individual. It can be very grim or even disgusting to some people, when dealing with cadavers or decomposing organisms. But how rewarding would it be, returning bones to their rightful owners, giving families back their children? You may even find yourself applying some of the lessons we learned in this course; qualitative analysis comes to mind for sure - figuring out what components are in a substance.

How do you get a job in the field of forensic science? Interestingly, TV shows such as Bones and CSI have popularized the once considered 'gruesome' profession. This means fierce competition for positions. Typically, forensic scientists will work in tandem with a government agency such as CSIS or the FBI, or in an independent forensic lab, in a medical examiner's office, hospitals, or teach at universities or colleges. Most institutions require at least a masters degree, but to teach or direct at a crime site, a doctorate is required. The typical career path of a forensic scientists is as follows:
- B.SC in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, or any other science discipline
* a degree in forensic science is not necessarily required, but would be an asset
- A Master's science degree
- A PhD in a certain discipline of science
All of these steps are not necessary for all jobs, but to reach the highest pay level and most responsibility it is recommended.

Finally, where should you study? Is there some kind of accredited school on how to be a dead people doctor? The short answer, is NOPE! As stated above, a degree in forensic science is not necessarily required, though a strong science background is. Pretty much every university in Canada offers a myriad of cool undergrad science courses and any one of those would be great. For example, doing your Bachelor of Science in Microbiology at Carleton, or your Bachelor of Science in Organic Chemistry at Queens...there are plenty of options. If you want a more specific look at forensic science, there are a few faculties that offer a dedicated program. University of Toronto, for example, is one of the few. They offer courses at the undergrad, masters, and post doctorate level.

Hopefully this post educated you on the field of forensic science! Who knows, maybe you two will experience some chemistry (haha). I hope you enjoyed reading through some of my posts on our curriculum this year, and thank you for getting through it with me. I encourage you to continue on the science path to post secondary and even further!

Good luck out there, kiddos!

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