Forensics have certainly come a long way. It all began as merely identifying fingerprints visible to the naked eye (back in ole BC), but has evolved into an essential crime-fighting giant with tens of subdivisions and even entire schools dedicated to those pursuing a job in forensic science. Forensic science can do fancy science tricks akin to those previously only seen in sci-fi movies. The future is now! Crimes can be solved just by examining insects or plant life at the scene, microscopic marks on a bullet can be examined to discover details about a murder, and even astronomy can be used to decipher previously unknown details about classic works of art. Here are six of the weirdest branches of forensic science that will blow your mind — and your chances of committing the perfect crime.
6. Forensic Botany
A forensic botanist knows that there is such thing as a gruesome plant. Forensic science developed forensic botany to cleverly research the nature of a crime using the plants found on or around the victim’s body. If the body lies in the park but contains plant matter only found across town by the river, forensic botanists can conclude that the body has been moved. According to Contact Traces (Marriner, 1991), a criminal always takes or leaves something from the scene of the crime — and they aren’t the only ones with fingerprints. Plants have ‘fingerprints’ as well, and trace evidence of those fingerprints can sometimes link a criminal to the victim. The first instance of forensic botany to be used in trial was during the infamous Lindbergh trial, when the discovery of a piece of wood in the criminal’s attic was examined. The wood grain exactly matched that of a ladder at the scene of the crime. Forensic science even utilized botany in the recent Casey Anthony; forensic botanist Jane Bock testified that Caylee Anthony’s, grown through with roots and leaves, could have been sitting in the woods for as little as two weeks — significantly less than prosecutors had believed. Unfortunately, Casey Anthony went free despite obviously having a hand in her child’s death. Forensic science can’t solve everything.
5. Forensic Entomology
Wasps, ants and bees, oh my! Forensic entomology is the study of insects and bugs in criminal cases. Although typically used to study death, it can also be used to detect drugs or decipher the exact time wounds were sustained. One of the most common cases in entomology (as frequently seen on forensic science show Forensic Files) is examining maggots on a body and determining the time of death based on those maggots — scientists know how long it takes for a maggot to complete each life stage, so the current state of the maggots is studied. Blow flies, cheese flies, house flies, and the grossly named flesh flies all behave and reproduce differently from one another. The same goes for the many species of beetles, moths, mites, bees, and ants. That’s a lot of potential evidence, especially since bugs and insects are virtually everywhere. Forensic scientists had to find ways of gathering additional research on forensic entomology without losing time by only studying current criminal cases. As a solution, pig carcasses were studied in various environments because of their similarities to the human body. Forensic entomology is even popular in films, such as in the moth pupa autopsy scene from Silence of the Lambs. Going back to the Casey Anthony trial, an entomologist was called in to testify about the presence of ‘late colonizers’ in Anthony’s trunk, or insects which are only present in a decomposing body after it’s been dead three to four days.
4. Forensic Meteorology
This one sounds way cooler than it actually is. Forensic science’s branch of meteorology utilizes witness accounts, weather reports, and satellite images to determine the weather conditions at the time/scene of a crime. The most frequent usages for forensic meteorology are in murder or insurance fraud investigations.
3. Forensic Geophysics
Fred West was a cruel British serial killer who, along with the help of his equally demented wife, murdered as many as 13 young girls. The recovery of multiple bodies buried on his property was sparked after he filmed himself raping two of his own daughters, and the girls told people at school who consequently told the police. Once West began confessing, a technique called forensic geophysics was utilized to uncover the bodies and prosecute West for as many crimes as possible. The forensic geophysics branch of forensic science uses Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to send electromagnetic waves into the ground, which bounce back with a length dependent upon what objects are beneath the ground’s surface. Initially invented as a mine detector, GPR was a huge advance in the 90s, but definitely had its flaws. Looking for a small object (such as a shoebox) was nearly impossible, as GPR works better when detecting bulkier objects.
2. Forensic Astronomy
Another relatively mild field of forensic science is forensic astronomy, which studies celestial objects to decipher past celestial constellations. In turn, these constellations can be compared to the past to figure out details about historical events or classic works of art. Forensic astronomy is not often used in trial, but one example of its usefulness in solving crimes can be in photography. Two pictures taken at the same event of the same person can be studied by looking at the shadows within the pictures. The difference between the shadows and the time of day can tell forensic astronomers much about the photograph.
1. Forensic Limnology
Similar to forensic botany and entomology, the forensic science of limnology utilizes the environment around a crime scene to discover clues. Specifically, limnology studies freshwater sources around the crime scene, and is particularly useful in drowning cases. A drowning victim may decompose significantly in only a short period of time if he or she is immersed in water after death, which can significantly decrease the amount of evidence found in or on the victim’s body. Limnology studies diatoms, or algae, to discover whether the person died from drowning or not. A drowning victim will retain diatoms within the lungs and all throughout other internal organs as well, having inhaled water before death. Limnology can also help locate where and when the person was killed, both using the freshwater flora inside the body and studying the development of that flora.