Technological Developments in Forensic Science

Written by nicole crawford
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Technological Developments in Forensic Science
The FBI, founded in 1932, uses technology to aid in forensic research. (Image by, courtesy of Cliff)

In the last 10 years, interest in forensic science has been especially inspired by television. In British universities, for example, about 20 forensic courses were offered in 1990, compared to 285 in 2009. A primary element of forensic science (as well as the TV shows it has inspired) is technological development. Without the technological tools that have been developed throughout the ages, forensic scientists would not be able to attain the conclusive evidence that they so often provide, and, of course, "CSI" wouldn't be half as interesting.

Technological Developments in Forensic Science
The FBI, founded in 1932, uses technology to aid in forensic research. (Image by, courtesy of Cliff)

Origins of Forensic Science

Although forensic science may often be thought of as a modern development, its known origins go back to as early as 200 BCE. The Greek Archimedes is often considered to be the father of forensic science, due to his discovery of the properties of a crown that was erroneously considered to be made of gold. The analysis of fingerprints to catch criminals dates back to 700, although there was no classification involved, and its use is reported in writings of the ancient Chinese and Romans. An ancient Chinese text, "The Washing Away of Wrongs" ("Hsi Duan Yu") contains descriptions of how to determine criminal guilt with the use of forensic technique.

Fingerprinting Technology

The first known use of a tool to record fingerprints dates to 1800. An English naturalist named Thomas Bewick made engravings of his fingerprints and used them to determine whether books were published by himself or someone else. The properties of fingerprints began to be explored to their full potential by forensic scientists such as Marcello Malpighi in 1686 and John Evangelist Purkinji in 1823. In 1892, the first classification system was implemented in Argentina by Juan Vucetich. In 1901 similar methods were implemented by the British and American governments.

Powerful Progress: The 19th Century

The 19th century provided an enormous impetus for technological developments in forensic science. In addition to advancement in knowledge about fingerprint classification, several new tools were implemented criminal cases. In 1810, the first recorded ink dye test was used to analyse documents in a German criminal case. The first detective force was established in 1810 by Eugene Francois Vidocq of Paris. Mathiew Orfila, the father of modern toxicology, began to use the microscope in blood and semen crime scene analysis. The polarising light microscope, which had an enormous impact on the success of forensic analysis, was invented in 1823 by William Nichols. Other technological developments include haemoglobin testing, the use of photography to identify criminals, and advances in anthropometry, the study of human measurements and their variations.

20th Century

Forensic technology continued to advance in the 20th century. Karl Landsteiner's discovery of blood groups in 1900 led to improved accuracy in identifying criminals. New blood tests were developed, the portable polygraph was invented, and weapons analysis continued to progress. The FBI was created in 1932. However, the most notable technological advances came after the dawn of the computer. The first computerised scans of fingerprints were introduced in 1977 by the FBI, making organisation much easier. In 1984, Sir Alec Jeffreys invented and successfully carried out the first DNA profiling test, which marked a milestone in criminal identification. DNA testing's first use in a criminal court proved the innocence of the accused criminal, demonstrating the importance of this new progress in technology.

Forensic Technology Today

As of 2008, there were 1,100 forensic science labs in 89 countries, as noted at New developments continue to be made in the many forensic labs around the world. For example, DNA testing, which used to take six to eight weeks to be processed, has now been decreased to one to two days. Although those TV gadgets may often seem too good to be true, many of them are in fact based on real life technological progress.

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