Many times a day in the life of a forensic technician begins in the middle of the night with a call from the police department. A crime has been committed--a murder, in fact--and there is evidence to be examined and analyzed. The police inform the forensic expert that the victim was shot multiple times and there were no witnesses. Because the victim was discovered slumped over the steering wheel inside of a car, the police have little to go on...and that is where a forensic technician steps in.
At the Mortuary
Upon entering the homicide autopsy room, the forensic technician is shown the victim and immediately begins examining the bullet wounds. The shape, size, and location of each hole are carefully noted. Entrance and exit areas are also marked on a special diagram. Residue from the gunshots are swabbed and placed into plastic bags to be tested later in the laboratory. With this type of evidence, a forensic expert may be able to discern what kind of gun was used, from what angle the bullets entered the body, and even how long ago the gun was fired.
If the suspect has been apprehended shortly after the crime was committed, the forensic technician would have tested his or her skin for traces of powder. Shooting a gun will leave minute specks of powder on the shooter's clothes and skin, which can be tested with a compound called the Griess reagent. If indeed the suspect did shoot a gun, the residue would turn orange from interacting with the reagent. Years ago, forensic detectives would place a layer of warm paraffin on a suspect's clothing and pick up the residue that way. Today, the reagent works more thoroughly with chemical processes.
Solving an Arson Case
What if the forensic technician had been called to an arson case instead of a murder? Instead of examining bullet holes, he or she would have attempted to find out what kind of accelerant was used by the arsonist to ignite the fire, such as gasoline or kerosene. One way the forensic technician does this is to put charcoal strips over various pieces of burnt debris. The charcoal will readily absorb any accelerant that had been poured onto the debris, which can later be analyzed by the technician in the laboratory. These chemical processes can quickly lead to a suspect's apprehension.
Testing for Drugs
If a suspect is thought to have drugs in his system, a forensic technician performs color tests which can reveal the presence of illegal or legal drugs. Police officers also use chemical tests when apprehending someone carrying what appears to be drugs. Forensic scientists will utilize something called a microcrystalline test in determining the presence of drugs. By placing a drop of blood or urine onto a microscope slide containing specific chemicals, they can detect the type of drug by the formation of crystal patterns.
Much of the job duties a forensic technician executes during a typical work day involves extensive knowledge of chemicals and their processes. In addition, having expertise in human anatomy and physiology also contributes to a forensic scientist's ability to solve what at first may seem unsolvable crimes.