What is a Forensic Specialist?

Agents of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division investigate a crime scene.
Agents of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division investigate a crime scene.

Have you ever wondered what forensic specialists do? After watching hundreds of CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) episodes, you may think you have this topic covered. However, CSI shows are meant to entertain, and most forensic specialists don’t have the super powers endowed to actors who play parts in CSI scripts.

With that said, forensic specialists in real life usually have a passion for their work. Solving crimes through dead bodies or even through a tooth or a piece of lint is like solving a puzzle. While some puzzles are successful, others often are missing many pieces. In most cases, the forensic specialist has been trained in pathology or botany or even in dentistry or archaeology.

While some forensic specialists come from odd backgrounds, in most cases the following experts are highly trained and well-skilled. In many cases, the following specialists work together as a team for many different national, state and local organizations to help solve crime mysteries.

  • Forensic Anthropologist: This person studies human skeletal remains to determine age, sex, race and even the height of the deceased. This person also identifies injuries or illnesses that the victim may have suffered and may also establish the time of death. Toxicology, chemical and DNA analyses are used in the anthropologists’ examinations of human skeletal remains. Many times, the medical examiner or coroner may call on the forensic anthropoligist to help remove a body from a crime scene or call the anthropologist in to help determine victims of mass graves.
  • Forensic Entomologist: This person studies insects, and uses that knowledge to determine a corpse’s approximate time of death based upon the life cycle of flies and other insects that feed on dead bodies. Also, the entomologist can help a forensic team determine if a body has been moved from one location to another.
  • Forensic Odontologist: Also known as the forensic dentist, this person helps identify unknown corpses by matching dental patterns with previous dental records and X-rays. Odontologists often are called upon to match a suspect’s teeth with bite marks on the victim or on food products.
  • Forensic Pathologist: This person is a licensed physician with training in pathology, which deals with the nature of disease and the structural and functional changes that disease causes in the human body. The forensic pathologist often is in charge of the body and of all evidence gleaned from examining that body.
  • Forensic Psychiatrist: This person often is called in to determine a person’s ability to stand trial, sign documents or sanity. Also, forensic psychiatrists may be asked to conduct psychological autopsies to provide a profile of an unknown perpetrator.
  • Forensic Serologist: A person who works in the serology unit usually deals with blook and other bodily fluids in a crime case. The serologist often handles blood typing, paternity testing and DNA profiling.
  • Forensic Toxicologist: Toxicology is the study of drugs and poisons, so forensic toxicology is the study of drugs or poisons present in the living and the deceased to asses how those substances contributed to a crime scene.
  • Forensic Botonist: Plant fragments, seeds, pollen and soil found at a crime scene all contribute their parts in the crime scene puzzle. The botonist joins a forensic team to help determine how this evidence can help to solve the crime.

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