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CHE-360 Forensic Chemsitry: Overview
I. Course Description
This will be the pivotal course for the New Forensic Chemistry Concentration in the Chemistry Department. Forensic Chemistry approaches the challenges and currently used analytical methods of Forensic Science from a fundamental, chemical perspective. Topics include drug analysis, arson investigation, questioned document analysis, and the analysis of gunshot residue samples.
While the Forensic Chemistry Concentration is only available to Chemistry Majors, individual Forensic Chemistry courses may be taken by students outside of Chemistry if they have the appropriate prerequisites.
II. Learning Goals
The Forensic Chemistry Course is the keystone of the Concentration. From Forensic Science textbooks, web sites, and publications in journals such as The Journal of Forensic Science, the instructor will assist the students in appreciating the challenges and methods associated with the key areas of forensic chemistry (fingerprint detection, questioned document analysis, etc.) and, most importantly, the level at which methods used are understood at a molecular level. For each topic, following an introduction to the field, the class will “step back” and consider the field as chemists. Questions will be formulated to develop a deeper understanding of the topic. Through such experiences, students will learn how to use the chemistry, mathematics and physics that they have learned to develop a satisfying understanding of the methods used in forensic science, which are frequently poorly understood. These experiences prepare students for careers in which education is a lifelong process.
III. Student Assessment
Students will be assessed through conventional methods such as quizzes, lab reports and a final exam. There will also be a portion of the grade that reflects the level of participation as perceived by the instructor. Students will periodically be appraised of their participation evaluation throughout the semester, and suggestions made. For each topic, when a ‘chemical treasure hunt’ is initiated and a round table discussion occurs shortly thereafter, there will always be lead-students identified, so that each student will have multiple opportunities to play a pivotal role in the process. That is, students will be working and making presentations in small groups.
IV. Learning Activities
This will be a very interactive course, that requires constant student involvement in reading and evaluating the Forensic literature, experiencing currently used methods, formulating fundamental questions as scientists, searching for clues in related areas, and being guided through an organized approach to bringing together new facts to either define, at a molecular level, a given method, or to design laboratory experiments that may quickly provide key insights. Constant participation is a natural part of the process.
In terms of how this course relates to other experiences in the program, it is a focused attempt to demonstrate to Chemistry majors the importance of maintaining their identity as a Chemist if they pursue a career in Forensic Science, and to develop sound methods for evaluation and self-training. The course also introduces them to an array of commonly used methods in forensic labs – many simples color tests for drugs, blood samples, etc. After this course, students in the Concentration will be able to decide on a direction of further study. If they would like to consider the possibility of working in a Forensic laboratory, they may either work in the ‘chemistry lab’ or ‘DNA lab’. Since the most powerful single tool for compound identification is mass spectrometry, students interested in the ‘chemistry lab’ track will take the “Forensic Applications of Mass Spectrometry” course. Those interested in the DNA and protein side of the field will take the “Forensic Methods and Analyses of Biomolecules” course. So, the courses in the program serve separate goals.
Students will be sent, in some cases, on “Chemical Treasure Hunts” – searching the literature of chemistry and instrumental analysis that will be used to provide insights into the forensic method. One frequently encounters a variety of explanations in the literature of this field that are conflicting. For example, a common reagent for attempting to find blood at a crime scene is luminol, which fluoresces when it reacts with blood. A variety of chemical reactions can be found in the literature describing the response. Some suggest that it is not a test for blood at all, but for the iron in the blood. However the chemistry which suggests that luminol reacts with iron is similar to known reactions of related compounds with other metals, so there may be a wide range of explanations. Students will learn how to identify and define such misunderstandings, and develop approaches for investigating them (which may involve literature work and lab work).
activities also include integrated lecture/lab activities, round table discussions,
and the maintaining of a Forensic Chemistry Notebook.