Chemistry 465

CHEM 465

Catalog Entry

CHEM 465. Forensic Chemistry
Three hours lecture; three hours laboratory. (4).

Prerequisites: CHEM 302, 324, 424

Students will gain insight into the many areas of forensic chemistry and practice techniques commonly used in private, state and federal forensic laboratories.  The lecture portion of the course will highlight proper collection, handling, analysis, and data interpretation of physical evidence from an accident or crime scene.  The theory and principles of analytical methods and techniques will be presented.  Spectroscopic, chromatographic, microscopic, and other techniques will be utilized to analyze evidence such as documents, fingerprints, fibers, paint, glass, firearms, drugs, arson, and explosives.


Detailed Description of Content of the Course

Lecture Topics

Forensic and Legal Concepts

Crime Laboratory Services

Evidence Collection and Handling

Statistics, Calibration, and Quality Control

Fingerprint Chemistry

            Ink and inkless methods

            Methods used to lift prints

Analysis of Inks and Paints

            Chemistry of Color and Colorants

            Chromatography, spectroscopy, microscopy

Fiber and Fabric Chemistry

            Burning tests, solubility, microscopy, spectroscopy, staining

            Hair chemistry

Chemistry of Combustion and Arson

            Thermodynamics, kinetics, and heat transfer

            Explosives and propellants

            Accelerants, fire debris, gunshot residue

Drugs and Toxicology

            Classification by origin, function, and general effects

            Chemistry of spot tests and other drug detection systems

            Screening and Instrumental Analysis

            Acidic Drugs: marijuana, hashish, anabolic steroids, designer drugs

            Alkaloids: opiates, heroin, morphine, cocaine, hallucinogens, xanthines

            Nonalkaloids: amphetamines, anesthetics, serotonin reuptake inhibitors

            Chromatography and Spectroscopy for Drug Detection and Identification

Body-Alcohol Chemistry

            Breathalyzer, intoxilyzer, and street tests

            Saliva alcohol test

            Identification and quantitation by spectroscopy and chromatography

Other Physical Evidence

            Glass fragments





Laboratory Experiences


Fingerprint chemistry - lifting, developing, and matching

Ink chemistry - chromatography

Fiber chemistry - differential staining, burning, solubility, spectroscopy, microscopy

Hair analysis - microscopy, spectroscopy

Chemistry of arson accelerants and combustion products - chromatography

Drug identification and quantitation - chromatography and spectroscopy

Alcohol detection and quantitation - chromatography and spectroscopy

Glass analysis - density, refractometry

Plastic identification - thermal analysis, spectroscopy


Ballistics matching

Explosives and propellants identification  


Detailed Description of Conduct of the Course

The course will be taught in classroom and laboratory settings.  Classroom instruction will be a combination of lecture, discussion, case studies, guest lecturers, and student presentations.  Students will also have an opportunity to tour the Western Regional Forensic Laboratory in Roanoke.


Time in the laboratory will provide students with the skills needed for proper collection, analysis, and interpretation of physical evidence found at an accident or crime scene.  This will provide students a comprehensive exposure to techniques and methods used in private, state, and federal crime laboratories.  This course will focus on the following laboratory skills required in the forensic chemistry field:

            - Statistical analysis of data collection and testing results

            - Solution preparation and standardization

            - Instrument calibration

            - Sample preparation


Instrumental techniques that will be utilized include, but not limited to:     

- Chromatography (thin layer, gas chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography, gas chromatography - mass spectrometry)

- Spectroscopy (ultra-violet, infra-red, atomic absorption)

- Microscopy

- Thermal analysis

- Refractometry


Goals and Objectives of the Course

Students successfully completing this course will be able to:

-  demonstrate the correct procedures for the collection, handling, and preservation of forensic evidence.

-  demonstrate an understanding of the principles, theories, and applications of various analytical methods used to analyze forensic evidence.

-  prepare standard solutions and calibrate instruments

- analyze data collected in the laboratory and evaluate the experimental results

-  assess the reliability of results and draw reasonable conclusions

-  communicate effectively through written and oral reports 

-  accurately lift and develop finger prints

-  match ink brands and paint samples

-  analyze hair and fiber samples

-  utilize instrumentation to identify arson accelerants after a fire

-  identify explosives embedded in consumer products using proper technique

-  correctly identify various drugs by use of spectroscopy and chromatography

-  quantitate body-alcohol levels

-  identify the class of glass from a crime scene


Assessment Measures

Methods of assessment may include:

            -  student performance on written examinations, quizzes, and homework assignments

            -  student performance on written laboratory reports and presentations

-  student’s ability to prepare samples and use the instrumentation, as measured through a written laboratory report or laboratory practical.

            -  student’s ability to correctly identify and quantitate analytes of crime scene samples.


Other Course Information



Review and Approval

New Course    4/13/09