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Forensic Science


Archimedes, who proved that his king's crown was not pure gold by measuring its density, was perhaps the world's first forensic scientist. However, it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional stories of Sherlock Holmes, written in the late nineteenth century, that first anticipated the use of science in solving crimes in the twentieth century. At about the same time, Sir Francis Galton's studies revealed that fingerprints are unique and do not change with age. As early as 1858, William Herschel, a British official in India, used imprints of inked fingers and hands as signatures on documents for people who could not write. Unknown to Herschel, contracts in Japan had been sealed by using a thumb or fingerprint for centuries.

During the 1890s, Scotland Yard, headquarters for the metropolitan police of London, began to use a system developed by a French police official named Alphonse Bertillon. The Bertillon system consisted of a photograph and 11 body measurements that included dimensions of the head, length of arms, legs, feet, hands, and so on. Bertillon claimed that the likelihood of two people having the same measurements for all 11 traits was less than one in 250 million. In 1894, fingerprints, which were easier to use and more unique (even identical twins have different fingerprints), were added to the Bertillon system.

Edmond Locard, a French criminalist, established the first laboratory dedicated to crime analysis in 1910. A decade later, crime labs had been established throughout Europe. The first crime lab in the United States was opened in Los Angeles in 1923, but it was 1932 before the Federal Crime Laboratory was established by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover. Today, there are about 400 crime labs and nearly 40,000 people involved in forensic science in the United States alone.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ferroelectric materials to Form and matterForensic Science - History, Fingerprints, Genetic Fingerprints, Evidence And Tools Used In Forensic Science