Forensic Science Technician
A forensic science technician could...
|Run ballistics tests on guns to find the one used in a bank robbery.||Collect evidence from a crime scene to help understand the chain of events.|
|Match DNA samples to reunite a long lost child with her family.||Solve a crime by matching fingerprints at the crime scene to a suspect.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Guilty or not guilty? The fate of the accused in court lies with the evidence gathered at the crime scene. The job of the forensic science technician is to gather evidence and use scientific principles and techniques to make sense of it. It can be a grueling and graphic job, but very rewarding. If you like the idea of using science to help deliver justice, then you should investigate this career.|
|Key Requirements||Curiosity, personal integrity, good speaking skills, good reasoning and critical thinking skills, must enjoy solving puzzles|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, algebra II, calculus, English; if available, computer science|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Faster than Average (14% to 20%)|
|Interview||Read an interview with Jason Birchfield, the Forensics Supervisor at the Baltimore County Police Department Crime Scene Unit.|
Training, Other Qualifications
Forensic science technicians usually need a bachelor's degree to qualify for entry-level positions.
Education and Training
Forensic science positions typically require a bachelor's degree to work in the field. Knowledge and understanding of legal procedures also can be helpful. Job candidates who have extensive hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory equipment, including computers and related equipment, usually require a short period of on-the-job training.
Approximately 30 colleges and universities offer a bachelor's degree program in forensic science; about another 25 schools offer a bachelor's degree in a natural science with an emphasis on forensic science or criminology; a few additional schools offer a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in a specialty area, such as criminology, pathology, jurisprudence, investigation, odontology, toxicology, or forensic accounting.
People interested in careers as forensic science technicians should take as many high school science and math courses as possible. Science courses taken beyond high school, in an associate or bachelor's degree program, should be laboratory oriented, with an emphasis on bench skills. A solid background in applied chemistry, physics, and math is vital.
Communication skills are important because technicians are often required to report their findings both orally and in writing. In addition, technicians should be able to work well with others. Because computers often are used in research and development laboratories, technicians should also have strong computer skills, especially in computer modeling. Organizational ability, an eye for detail, and skill in interpreting scientific results are important as well, as are a high mechanical aptitude, attention to detail, and analytical thinking.
Nature of the Work
In this video, Angi M. Christensen is a forensic anthropologist with the FBI and she describes a typical work day.
Forensic science technicians investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Often, they specialize in areas such as DNA analysis or firearm examination, performing tests on weapons or on substances such as fiber, glass, hair, tissue, and body fluids to determine their significance to the investigation. Proper collection and storage methods are important to protect the evidence. Forensic science technicians also prepare reports to document their findings and the laboratory techniques used, and they may provide information and expert opinions to investigators. When criminal cases come to trial, forensic science technicians often give testimony as expert witnesses on laboratory findings by identifying and classifying substances, materials, and other evidence collected at the scene of a crime. Some forensic science technicians work closely with other experts or technicians. For example, a forensic science technician may consult either a medical expert about the exact time and cause of a death, or another technician who specializes in DNA typing in hopes of matching a DNA type to a suspect.
Forensic science technicians work under a wide variety of conditions. Most work indoors, usually in laboratories, and have regular hours. Some occasionally work irregular hours in order to collect data from crime scenes.
Advances in automation and information technology require technicians to operate more-sophisticated laboratory equipment. Forensic science technicians make extensive use of computers, electronic measuring equipment, and traditional experimental apparatus.
Some science technicians might be exposed to hazards from equipment, chemicals, or toxic materials. Forensic science technicians often are exposed to human body fluids and firearms. However, these working conditions pose little risk if proper safety procedures are followed. For forensic science technicians, collecting evidence from crime scenes can be distressing and unpleasant.
On the Job
- Testify in court about investigative and analytical methods and findings.
- Keep records and prepare reports detailing findings, investigative methods, and laboratory techniques.
- Interpret laboratory findings and test results to identify and classify substances, materials, and other evidence collected at crime scenes.
- Operate and maintain laboratory equipment and apparatus.
- Prepare solutions, reagents, and sample formulations needed for laboratory work.
- Analyze and classify biological fluids using DNA typing or serological techniques.
- Collect evidence from crime scenes, storing it in conditions that preserve its integrity.
- Identify and quantify drugs and poisons found in biological fluids and tissues, in foods, and at crime scenes.
- Analyze handwritten and machine-produced textual evidence to decipher altered or obliterated text or to determine authorship, age, or source.
- Reconstruct crime scenes to determine relationships among pieces of evidence.
- Examine DNA samples to determine if they match other samples.
- Collect impressions of dust from surfaces to obtain and identify fingerprints.
- Analyze gunshot residue and bullet paths to determine how shootings occurred.
- Visit morgues, examine scenes of crimes, or contact other sources to obtain evidence or information to be used in investigations.
- Examine physical evidence such as hair, fiber, wood or soil residues to obtain information about its source and composition.
- Determine types of bullets used in shooting and if fired from a specific weapon.
- Examine firearms to determine mechanical condition and legal status, performing restoration work on damaged firearms to obtain information such as serial numbers.
- Interpret the pharmacological effects of a drug or a combination of drugs on an individual.
- Confer with ballistics, fingerprinting, handwriting, documents, electronics, medical, chemical, or metallurgical experts concerning evidence and its interpretation.
- Compare objects such as tools with impression marks to determine whether a specific object is responsible for a specific mark.
Companies That Hire Forensic Science Technicians
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Are Fingerprint Patterns Inherited?
- Crime Scene Chemistry—The Cool Blue Light of Luminol
- Crime Scene Chemistry: Determine the Identity of an Unknown Chemical Substance
- Crime Scene Chemistry: The Kastle-Meyer Test for Blood
- DNA Fingerprinting
- Eeeeew! Maggot Mass Temperature
- Forensic Science: Building Your Own Tool for Identifying DNA
- Forensics: How Does It Matter? Measure the Spatter!
- Investigate the 'Death' of an Orange: How is Rate of Heat Loss Based on the Surrounding Temperature?
- Molecular Scissors
- Paintball Ballistics
- Science Fair CSI: Can You Predict the Spatter?
- Skeleton Building
- Testing for Bias in a Photo Lineup
- Testing the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony
- The Case of Mistaken Identity
- What Makes a DNA Fingerprint Unique?
- What Makes Candies So Colorful? Investigate How Gel Electrophoresis Unlocks the Color Code!
- Who Done It? DNA Fingerprinting and Forensics
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Forensic Science Technician that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Sullivan, M. (2003, March). Career of the Month: An Interview with Forensics Technician Jason Birchfield. The Science Teacher. p. 70. Retrieved December 14, 2009, from http://www.nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=47992
- National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks: Meet a Real Technician, Forensic Science, Angi M. Christensen. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from http://science.education.nih.gov/LifeWorks.nsf/Interviews/Angi+M.+Christensen#Interview