2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 3:45 PM


ISPHORDING, Wayne C., Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, LSCB 136, Mobile, AL 36688, wisphord@jaguar1.usouthal.edu

“Sherlock Holmes” (i.e., Arthur Conan Doyle) is credited with describing some of the first forensic methods now in common use by law enforcement agencies. In more recent years, many analytical techniques have been developed that are now widely used for gathering evidence in both civil and criminal cases. A number of these methods are also widely used in geological investigations, hence the field of Forensic Geology has expanded rapidly. As part of a recent workshop supported by NAGT, NSF and the Digital Library for Earth System Education, an outline was developed for a Forensic Geology course, building on experienced gained previously from teaching the course twice as a seminar. The course is designed for students who have had physical geology and is targeted toward Criminal Justice, Sociology, Biology, Chemistry, and Geology majors. Two primary goals are defined: (1) for students to be able to select appropriate analytical techniques applicable to analysis of crime scene samples and (2) to analyze and interpret data and arrive at conclusions consistent with the procedure(s) selected. An important ancillary goal was for the students to know which analytical procedures are acceptable for evidence presentation, i.e., to be aware of those that have passed the “judicial test of scientific acceptance” (e.g.,thin section information can not be used to identify minerals in a court of law!). The course involves both lectures and labs. The latter require students to actually perform analyses using the petrographic microscope, an ICP system, X-ray diffraction, particle size analysis, Atterberg Limits, remote sensing information obtained from Landsat, AVIRIS, etc., and chemical analysis using the field spectrometer, and to interpret the results. Examples are provided in class (and assigned readings) on the use of these techniques in investigations ranging from murder, arson, industrial sabotage, industrial pollution, negligent homicide, fraud, etc. Field trips include visits to the regional FBI headquarters and Mobile County Crime Laboratory. The students have responded with enthusiasm and apparently enjoy the exposure to methods that, in most cases, they had no prior knowledge. Sample case histories will be presented, as well as the course outline and a description of laboratory exercises for this one semester course.