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16th September 2002
Fancy being a Forensic?
Forensic scientist
Collecting the clues

Sounds a great career. But like anything, to be good at your profession you have to put in the graft and know what the job's really like.

Ben Whitehead

SEE ALSO
BBC Cracking Crime
WEB LINKS
Nottinghamshire Crimestoppers
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FACTS

A major part of forensic science involves DNA profiling.

DNA stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid,

There's even a Forensic Science Society
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Forensic Scientists' prime function is to provide evidence to support criminal investigations.

The major break through in Forensic Science came 20 years ago when scientists started to use DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) profiling techniques.

This meant Forensic Scientists could provide police with often conclusive evidence, by matching blood, hair and semen.

Facts
The tragic murder of Sarah Payne was eventually solved by police with the help of Forensic Scientists.

They matched the DNA sequence of a single strand of Sarah's hair found on a sweatshirt discovered in murderer Roy Whiting's van.

In total, 22 fibres that were found on five articles in Whiting's van were identical to ones found on Sarah's head and shoe.

More recently advances in DNA technology have led to crime being solved by matching DNA in human faeces.

A man in Birmingham who killed a 66-year-old women was caught after Forensic scientists used DNA technology to identify him from excrement that was left at the scene by the murderer in 1995.

Alan Braithwaite, one of the lecturers working on the new Forensic Science course at The Nottingham Trent University, and a former Forensic Scientist is probably best placed to answer basic forensic questions.

He first started as a Forensic Scientist in Nottingham in the 1960s. He is now the head of analytical and environmental chemistry at Nottingham Trent University.

Alan Braithwaite, Forensic Science lecturer
What first attracted you to Forensic Science?
I was first attracted because I was able to develop analytical techniques. The importance of analytical techniques has become increasingly important. When I became first involved in Forensic Science in the 60’s it was a real challenge.
How realistic are television crime drama’s like Cracker and CSI?
The programmes you see on television are glossed over in terms of reality and detail, because they are entertainment. I don’t watch them, I find them a bit dull. Forensic science is 90% routine sampling and 5-10% helping to solve crime by analysing circumstantial evidence, but it is the 5-10% that makes it worthwhile.
What process’s do you go through in order to help police solve a crime?
There is a specific process which Forensic Scientists and the police have to follow, first and foremost, samples must be taken from the scene of the crime and it is important that these aren’t contaminated. We often refer to the ‘Locard’ rule. He used to say ‘every contact leaves a trace.’ For example if someone has broken in through a window in a burglary we would look for prints on paint and wood particles as well as shoe prints and blood. It is then a case of taking a series of samples and trying to match them to circumstantial evidence, using analytical instrumentation.
On average how many people become involved on the forensic side of cracking crime?
It’s a team game. The relationship between the scenes of crime officers and the Forensic Scientists is very important as they work very closely. There is usually an overseeing officer with a team of specialists working below them. For example, Forensic Scientists who specialise in explosives, drugs, fibres or metrology.
Have you ever helped solve a crime?
I have assisted in doing so. I have been involved in murder cases and provided evidence for certain cases, as well as GBH cases, and road traffic accidents, but it was a long time ago.

Useful Information
Qualifications
Need 'A' level science i.e. chemistry etc. 2:1 degree in Science is usually standard.

Salary
Starting salary for a graduate is around 20k with top positions on 30-40k.

Hours
Very flexible, depends on cases and when they arise. Certainly isn’t a 9-5 job.

Prospects
Forensic Scientists can branch out into various fields, including Management, Marketing, working for local authorities and teaching.

Is being a forensic scientist as easy as it appears on TV?

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