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An introduction to Forensic Science

Crime SceneForensic 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 may help to determine 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, mathematics and physics. These diverse fields are all linked by the principle of “every contact leaves a trace”.

That trace evidence may be in the guise of any or all of the following:

  • Biological - DNA, hair, body fluids such as saliva or blood;
  • Physical - Shoe outsole or tyre impressions, bullet rifling and tool or bite marks;
  • Material - Soil, glass, fibres and paint;
  • Chemical - gunshot and explosive residues, fire accelerants, illicit drugs and toxicology

The common undercurrent of Forensic Science is an underlying scientific basis that can be applied to assist in linking the crime to a person of interest using modern analytical techniques.

Forensic Science @ Murdoch

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 Forensic Biology and DNA Profiling, Chemical Criminalistics, Toxicology, Forensic Pathology (blunt and sharp force injuries, asphyxiation, electrocution, gunshot wounds and fatal fires), Forensic Anthropology (the study of skeletal remains) and Forensic Entomology and Palynology. 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 fictional murder investigation where they analyse evidence and prepare an expert testimony report. The culmination of the case is a Moot Court where students deliver expert testimony before a judge, jury and public gallery!

undergrad pictureIn addition, students can undertake Double major options, to increase the breadth of the degree and 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:

• Genetics & Molecular Biology
• Biomedical Science
• Clinical Laboratory Science
• Chemistry
• Crime Science
• Criminal Behaviour
• Security, Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Students can elect to undertake an Honours project in their fourth year in which they carry out an applied forensic research project in association with the team of Murdoch Forensic academics and in conjunction with State and Federal Policing and Forensic laboratory providers.

Graduates are also encouraged to undertake various postgraduate forensic courses to prepare them for employment within this field. These courses are detailed below.

Postgraduate Studies in Forensic Science (Professional Practice)

Murdoch University offers a suite of postgraduate courses in Forensic Science catering to a broad cognate of Bachelor’s graduates seeking higher level qualifications in order to compete in what is a competitive but highly rewarding job market.

All aspects of the courses emphasise theoretical knowledge and practical training in crime scene management and the forensic investigation of major crime. The courses are specifically designed to train graduates to become “job-ready” forensic investigators with procedures aligned to Australian best practice across the disciplines studied. Students undertake units in crime scene investigation; fingerprint and footwear impression evidence; death and homicide investigation, DNA profiling, advanced crime scene management, blood pattern analysis and digital forensics. Practical training in these courses includes crime scene simulations and clandestine grave recovery through Forensic Archaeological techniques.

Current industry professionals seeking advancement through up-qualifying and also those seeking to change career may wish to consider one of the postgraduate options available.

Option 1: Graduate Certificate - One Semester Coursework (full time equivalent, commencing S1 or S2)
* Graduate Certificate in Forensic Science (Professional Practice) allows students to select four units from the suite of postgraduate coursework units available in the Master of Forensic Science. This option enables both postgraduate students and industry professionals to complement their current expertise or broaden their skills in more diverse Forensic Science disciplines.

Option 2: Graduate Diploma - Two Semester Coursework (full time equivalent, commencing S1 or S2)
^ Graduate Diploma in Forensic Science (Professional Practice) allows students to select all eight postgraduate coursework units in the Master of Forensic Science.

Candidates undertaking either the Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma have the option to articulate their enrolment to one of the Masters degrees.

Option 3: Master Degree - Two Semester Coursework and One Semester Research Project (full time equivalent, S1 or S2)
* Master of Forensic Science (Professional Practice)

Or

Option 4: Master Degree - Two Semester Coursework and Two Semester Research Project (full time equivalent, S1 or S2)
^ Master of Forensic Science (Professional Practice and Research)

Further to the Graduate Diploma, the Master’s course contains a six or twelve month research project on a topic of industry relevance. State and Federal forensic agencies collaborate with Murdoch Academics to co-supervise, direct and, in some cases, provide facilities for research to be undertaken. This is a key opportunity for students to obtain industry connections and establish relationships with prospective employers.

* revised in 2019
^ new in 2019

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, Emeritus 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
Apply now Enquire online

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

Research Highlights and Profiles

Dr Garth Maker and his team use forensic chemistry to investigate the safety and quality of herbal medicines that are sold in Australia. Their research has demonstrated that some herbal medicines contain things that shouldn't be there, sometimes breaking Australian law. They found DNA from endangered species, such as the snow leopard, and drugs and poisons, including steroids, strychnine and even Viagra! They also found high levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead, in some cases up to 10 times higher than the maximum daily exposure limit.

Brendan Chapman

Associate Professor James Speers

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)

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