This inventor received a patent in 1890 for smokeless gunpowder, an innovation leading to the automatic and semi-automatic firearm.
A forensic scientist is, more often than not, a chemist. The traces of gunpowder, strands of hair, and chips of paint that can link a suspect to a crime are best analyzed by chemical instruments, methods, and problem-solving approaches. “For an analytical chemist,” says J. Graham Rankin, professor of forensic science at Marshall University, Huntington, W.Va., “the forensic world is the ultimate.”
And the more powerful the instruments and chemical methods of analysis have become over the years, the more forensic science has leaned on chemistry. Even fingerprint analysis, one of the oldest tools of forensic examiners, is highly chemistry-dependent. “When I first started,” says David E. Burow, a graduate student in forensic science at Marshall, “I thought that all you did was powder fingerprints and poof, they appear.” But after he started an internship with the Secret Service, Burow learned that developing fingerprints on various kinds of surfaces requires a myriad of different types of chemical processes.
Evidence comes in all forms: unidentified powder, ingested alcohol, paint chips, glass shards, DNA, fingerprints, half-burned wood, printing ink, and so on. Entire subfields have grown up around the analysis of the most common types.
Analytical chemists can even help determine the serial number on a firearm, Newman says. “Serial numbers are impressions. Even if they are filed off, the metal underneath it has been altered by that compression. There are chemicals you can add that bring [the number] back up.” And the presence of gunshot residue–lead, barium, or antimony–can help place where a gun was fired.
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2004 American Chemical Society