March 21, 2002
New course introduces students to crime scene investigation
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A new course in forensic science at Purdue University will take the mystery out of crime scene investigation by familiarizing students with the scientific techniques and social aspects of the field.
"Introduction to Forensic Science," to be offered for the first time this fall, will introduce students to the subject with topics ranging from forensic crime scene techniques, firearms, entomology, blood chemistry, pathology, toxicology, anthropology, botany, trace evidence, court room involvement and new trends in forensic investigations.
In addition, students will have opportunities to meet with professionals in the field, including crime laboratory investigators from local, state and federal agencies, and to review cases solved by professional crime scene investigators.
The course, offered jointly by Purdue's School of Health Sciences and Department of Entomology, is the first of a three-course program designed to give students a comprehensive overview of the field.
Designed by Ralph Williams, professor of entomology, and David Tate, director of clinical and continuing education in Purdue's School of Health Sciences, the course aims to satisfy students' curiosity about crime investigations while providing information on the real-life science and technology used to solve crimes.
"With the popularity of such TV shows as 'CSI,' 'The New Detectives Series,' and 'Justice Files,' students have shown great interest in getting information on the topic of forensic science," Tate says. "We wanted to respond to students' needs and interests, and at the same time expose students to the varied, and sometimes rigorous, science used behind the scenes."
Tate notes that when investigating a crime, forensic scientists often draw upon knowledge in chemistry, biology, physics, entomology, botany and computer science. In addition, analyzing and reconstructing a crime may require expertise from medical examiners, psychologists and psychological profilers, statisticians, computer analysts, and forensic engineers.
In developing the curriculum, Tate and Williams talked to a number of experts, including Purdue alumnus Neal Haskell, who helped establish the field of forensic entomology after receiving master's and doctoral degrees in forensic entomology under Williams' direction. Haskell now serves on the faculty at St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind.
"Neal uses his knowledge of the life cycles of insects to help investigators determine the time and location of death, and has participated in criminal investigations throughout the world," Williams said. "His experience in the field, along with others, was invaluable in developing a comprehensive approach to this course."
Haskell, along with William Bass, who in 1971 established the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility to study human decomposition, will present guest lectures in the forensic science class at Purdue. Students also will review clips from television shows such as "CSI" to see examples of crime investigations in progress.
The course has no prerequisites and is open to all students, including freshmen. Tate and Williams also plan to tape the lectures and make them available for students with schedule conflicts and members of the community.
For students interested in furthering their education in forensics, Williams and Tate have designed two additional courses that will offer more details on various techniques and practices.
The second course, called "Criminalistics," will be offered next spring. The class will cover detailed procedures such as sampling, DNA technology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood chemistry, drug analysis, ballistics, techniques of applied forensic science, advanced entomological techniques and advanced anthropological techniques.
A third course, "Advanced Forensic Science," will be offered in the fall of 2003. The class will cover legal proceedings, gas chromatography techniques, advanced DNA technology, pathology, biochemical assay of soils and evidence recovery.
Looking ahead, Williams says Purdue may someday be able to offer a minor in the area.
"Forensic science encompasses many disciplines, and draws upon many of Purdue's strengths, so we see this as a good addition to the curriculum," he says.
Williams, who speaks in high school classrooms throughout the state on the topic of forensic entomology, says instructional materials developed for the class also will be made available to high schools and professional groups interested in the topic.
Writer: Susan Gaidos, (765) 494-2081; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: David Tate, 494-1392, email@example.com
Ralph Williams, 494-4560, firstname.lastname@example.org
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A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/tate.forensics.jpeg.