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An introduction to Forensic Science

Forensic Science is the use of scientific methods to uncover evidence that can be used in court. It has particular relevance to criminal investigations where it helps uncover how, when and by whom a crime was committed.

Forensic science draws mainly upon biology and chemistry, but also involves other scientific disciplines such as geology and physics. These diverse fields are all linked by the principle of “every contact leaves a trace”.

Whether that trace evidence is biological (e.g. DNA, hair or pollen); “impression evidence” (e.g. shoe prints, tyre marks or bite marks); soil or fibres, or chemical in nature such as gunshot residue or paint, there is a scientific discipline that can find it and link the crime to the perpetrator using modern analytical techniques.

Degrees in Forensic Science

Undergraduate degree Postgraduate degree

Bachelor Degree in Forensic Biology and Toxicology

Murdoch University’s 3-year Bachelor degree in Forensic Biology and Toxicology provides in-depth training and hands-on experience across a range of topics. Disciplines include DNA-profiling, forensic pathology (blunt and sharp force injuries, asphyxiation, electrocution, gunshot wounds and fatal fires), forensic palynology (the use of pollen grains to connect a suspect to a crime scene), forensic anthropology (the study of skeletal remains) and disaster victim identification. Students are exposed to witness imaging techniques and receive hands-on training in facial approximation using clay-based sculpture.

In the final semester of study, students take part in a complex (but fictional) murder investigation where each group must analyse the evidence, prepare an expert testimony report and then select one member to deliver the testimony in a Moot Court complete with judge, jury and public gallery!

Students can elect to undertake a fourth, or Honours, year in which they carry out an applied forensic research project in association with the Forensic Division of WA Police. Recently, Honours student Sarah Evans proved that differences in blood thickness did not affect the calculation of where the victim was attacked – an important finding for future criminal court cases.

Meanwhile, Kirstie Caren is developing a technique to estimate the age of blood stains to enable hand-held equipment at a crime scene to provide a good estimate of the time of the attack.

Postgraduate Studies in Forensic Science (Professional Practice)

Murdoch University’s one-semester Graduate Certificate in Forensic Science, followed by a one-year Master of Forensic Science (Professional Practice), emphasise practical training in crime scene management and the forensic investigation of major crime.

They are specifically designed to train graduates with Bachelor degrees in Forensics, Biomedical Science, Molecular Biology or similar, to become “job-ready” forensic investigators.

In the Graduate Certificate, students undertake units in crime scene investigation; fingerprint and footwear impression evidence; death and homicide investigation and DNA profiling.

In the Masters, further training is provided in advanced crime scene management, blood pattern analysis and digital forensics. Practical training in the courses includes crime scene simulations and “body” exhumations.

An important component of the Masters is either a six month research project or a work placement with the Forensic Division of the WA Police. Students gain practical, real-life training in areas such as fingerprinting, ballistics and blood pattern analysis.

Sarah Evans creating a blood stain pattern Sarah Evans explaining the region of origin calculation to Prof Bob Mead Kirstie Caren setting up human blood stains for a blood pattern ageing experiment

Sarah Evans creating a blood stain pattern and explaining the region of origin calculation to Murdoch’s Forensic Toxicologist, Associate Professor Bob Mead.

Kirstie Caren setting up human blood stains for a blood pattern ageing experiment.

Double major options

To increase the breadth of the degree and to expand employment opportunities, it is highly recommended that students undertake a double major, most of which can be completed within three years. The most common double major options combine Forensic Biology and Toxicology with one of the following majors:

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biomedical Science
  • Clinical Laboratory Science
  • Chemistry
  • Criminology
  • Security, Terrorism and Counterterrorism
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Enquire about your study options, or apply now.

Career pathways

Because of the breadth of forensic science, graduates can be employed in a variety of jobs.

Many become Scene of Crime Officers (SOCOs) in police forces across the world. A SOCO role is a good starting point for a career in crime scene investigation, as gaining on-the-job experience can often lead to a Crime Scene Officer (CSO) or Forensic Investigator position which deal with serious crimes such as homicide and sexual assault.

Some graduates find careers in the laboratory-based aspects of forensic science, performing drug and paint analysis or DNA profiling in criminal cases, and even carrying out drug screening on mine-site workers.

Other graduates focus on wildlife forensics, helping protect our native animals from exploitation by poachers, or limiting the importation of ivory and animal skins.

See what our students have to say

“I am a Murdoch graduate and want to acknowledge Murdoch University's valuable Forensic Biology and Toxicology course and thank the University for giving me a great start to my career as a forensic scientist.

I am one of two Murdoch graduates to have been selected recently in an intake of about 14 SOCOs (Scene of Crime Officers) with the NSW Police Force. I believe there were some 3,000 applicants world-wide for the positions. The fact that two graduates from Murdoch’s Forensic Science course have been picked up by the NSW Police Force, the largest police department in Australia, speaks volumes for Murdoch’s Forensic Biology and Toxicology course and its applicability to real-world forensics.

The course is an absolutely wonderful and very unique program and I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to complete that degree. With forensic science being a relatively modern field and developing so rapidly, Murdoch University is making a great contribution to the future of forensic science.”

- Susan Fandry, Scene of Crime Scene Officer, NSW Police Force

Real-world applications of Forensic Science

Girl in the suitcase

The remarkable revelation recently that has linked together the murder of a 2-year old child, whose discarded remains were discovered in a suitcase near Wynarka in outback South Australia several months ago, with the discovery in 2010 of the skeletal remains of a young woman in the Belanglo State Forest in New South Wales, has a Murdoch University forensic link.

+ Learn how Forensic Science helped solve the mystery of ‘Angel’ and her baby (PDF)

The Body in the Bag

Two ten year old boys searching for bags of disused copper wire in the industrial suburb of Darnell in Sheffield, England, made a gruesome discovery. They found a large bag discarded on the road verge. To their horror they discovered it contained, not copper wire, but the mummified remains of a man.

+ Learn how Forensic Science helped solve the mystery of the Body in the Bag (PDF)