Laboratory sciences include chemistry, biology, toxicology, illicit drug analysis, questioned documents, marks and impressions and electronic or computer crime.
The role of the forensic chemist can vary enormously. There are a number of different areas in which they are involved. These include the detection and identification of:
- Illicit drugs and the manufacture of them at 'clandestine laboratories'
- Accelerants used in arson cases
- Explosive and gunshot residues
- Trace evidence, including paint, glass, polymers and fibres.
Biology includes DNA profiling where it is possible to distinguish between individuals based on differences in their DNA. Samples used include blood, saliva, semen, trace skin samples and hair. It is also possible to distinguish between individuals by looking at other characteristics of hair. Other examinations include the detection of biological material and the interpretation of the manner in which the material was deposited (e.g. blood stain pattern analysis).
Toxicology involves the detection and identification of illicit and pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol and poisons in the body, interpreting toxicity levels and the effects of these substances on the functions of the body.
Questioned document examination includes the examination of handwriting and signatures, writing impressions, and machine generated documents (e.g. printers in an attempt to determine the source and origin of a document. It also includes the examination of materials such as paper, inks and toners. There is a significant amount of forensic document examination taking place outside of traditional law enforcement laboratories, such as other government agencies (Department for Immigration and Border Protection, DIBP), private companies and financial institutions.
Marks and impressions are left at scenes by implements such as bars and screwdrivers and by shoe soles and vehicle tyres. Detection and identification of these marks and impressions is another discipline within forensic science.
The primary qualification for the laboratory sciences is a science degree (e.g. chemistry, biology and biochemistry). However, many applicants for positions in the laboratory sciences have post-graduate degrees such as Masters and PhD degrees.