Forensic science Dissertation Topics

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Example forensic science dissertation topic 1:

An analysis of and other common factors such as chemical composition in cling film used in the packaging of illicit drugs.

Cling film is frequently used to package small amounts of illicit drugs among low-level dealers. Increasing forensic interest has focussed upon the chemical composition of cling film to determine relationships between specific samples of cling film. This dissertation considers whether changes in chemical composition can be found in the striae of cling film and whether they are of significant forensic value. Using methods such as visual observation, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, birefringence and shadowgraphy, the research will seek to find means of linking packaging similarities in order to differentiate between those claiming to be users and those who are dealing.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Holman, S.W., Emmett, T.F. and Cole, M.D. (2012). 'A quantitative assessment of the chemical variation in food grade polyethylene cling film, a common wrapping material for illicit drugs, using attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy'. Analytical Methods, vol. 4(6), pp. 1667-1673.
  • Lo, L.S.S. (2012). The examination of transparent plastic bags for forensic casework. Master's thesis, University of Auckland.
  • Siegel, J.A. and Siegel, J. (2011). Forensic science at work. New York: Rosen Classroom.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 2:

Improvements in gathering techniques in buccal cell collection for DNA testing among unwilling subjects.

The collection of buccal cells for DNA testing can provide mixed results. The identification of epithelial deposits on the traditional cotton swab can be poor; although improvements have been seen with wet cotton swab methods, the application of such tests among unwilling subjects has been problematical. Studies have shown that mouthwash collection of buccal cells improves the quality of the sample, but this is difficult to achieve from an unwilling subject. This dissertation considers means by which whole saliva may be gathered from subjects who are obstructive and possibly violent, avoiding the use of cotton swabs entirely.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Abraham, J.E., Maranian, M.J., Spiteri, I., Russell, R., Ingle, S., Luccarini, C., Earl, H.M., Pharoah, P.D.P., Dunning, A.M. and Caldas, C. (2012). 'Saliva samples are a viable alternative to blood samples as a source of DNA for high throughput genotyping'. BMC Medical Genomics, vol. 5(1), pp. 19-25.
  • Aidar, M. and Line, S.R. (2007). 'A simple and cost-effective protocol for DNA isolation from buccal epithelial cells'. Brazilian Dental Journal, vol. 18(2), pp. 148-152.
  • Kaye, J. (2006). 'Police collection and access to DNA samples'. Genomics, Society and Policy, vol. 2(1), pp. 16-72.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 3:

An evaluation of the viability of a shared European ballistics database in consideration of UK policing and criminal justice opt-outs.

This dissertation will appeal to the student who has a political as well as scientific interest in the progress of forensic science in Europe. The UK will opt out of all of the criminal justice 130 measures due to start in the European Union in 2014, including the European arrest warrant and Europol. This will affect plans for a shared European ballistics electronic database. Claims have been made that the opt-out will mean the UK will be open to a flood of weapons from organised crime in Europe. This dissertation will involve interactions with the Police Foundation, Members of Parliament, and forensic scientists.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • De Ceuster, J., Hermsen, R., Mastaglio, M. and Nennstiel, R. (2012). 'A discussion on the usefulness of a shared European ballistic image database'. Science & Justice, vol. 52(4), pp. 237-242.
  • Yates, S.J., Akhgar, B., Bates, C., Jopek, L. and Wilson, R. (2011). 'A platform for discovering and sharing confidential ballistic crime data'. International Journal of Knowledge and Web Intelligence, vol. 2(2), pp. 202-218.
  • Yates, S.J., Bates, C., Akhgar, B., Jopek, L., Wilson, R., Mitchell, S.J. and Killick, S. (2011). 'The Odyssey Project - Understanding and implementing user needs in the context of ballistic crime data exchange'. In, Akhgar, B. and Yates, S.J., Intelligence Management - Advanced Information and Knowledge Processing. London: Springer, pp. 11-34.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 4:

Changes in the nature and integrity of chop marks in bone found beneath tree roots.

The increased acidity of the soil as a direct result of roots can impact the forensic integrity of bones found buried beneath trees. As Schiffer (1987) notes, direct contact with tree roots can cause etching on the bone. This dissertation considers the effect this has on chop marks from the perspective of forensic identification through changes in striated tool marks. Using a series of tests including simulated aging processes, this dissertation determines whether there is evidentiary reliability in tool marks made on bone that has been buried for a period of a minimum of one year under Douglas firs.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Baxter, K. (2004). 'Extrinsic factors that affect the preservation of bone'. Nebraska Anthropologist, Vol. 19, pp. 38-45.
  • Kelly, H.M. (2008). Cutting crime: The evidential value of toolmarks in bone. Doctoral thesis, University of Auckland.
  • Schiffer, M.B. (1987). Formation processes of the archaeological record. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 5:

An evaluation of different brands of furniture polish on the forensic Luminol test.

Chemiluminescent blood stain analysis (through the use of Luminol) can be affected by different factors. Creamer et al. (2003) noted that various substances interfere with the forensic Luminol test for blood, such as bleach, parsnips, tea, copper, and so on. They also observed that some furniture polishes interfered with this important test for blood stains. This dissertation evaluates an exhaustive list of commercially available furniture polishes to determine how widely this factor may affect blood stain analysis. The purpose of this is to establish the likelihood of furniture polish proving false negative results, with particular emphasis on classifying the polishes within economic bands.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Barni, F., Lewis, S.W., Berti, A., Miskelly, G.M. and Lago, G. (2007).' Forensic application of the luminol reaction as a presumptive test for latent blood detection'. Talanta, vol. 72(3), pp. 896-913.
  • Creamer, J.I., Quickenden, T.I., Apanah, M.V., Kerr, K A. and Robertson, P. (2003), 'A comprehensive experimental study of industrial, domestic and environmental interferences with the forensic luminol test for blood'. Luminescence, vol. 18, pp. 193-198.
  • Dilbeck, L. (2006). 'Use of Bluestar forensic in lieu of Luminol at crime scenes'. Journal of Forensic Identification, vol. 56(5), pp. 706-720.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 6:

An assessment of the reliability of evidence relating to superficial heat damage on arsonists' clothing.

The identification of very superficial heat damage to arsonists' clothing can assist in the successful prosecution of such criminals. Extensive heat damage or the presence of accelerant on the clothing of arsonists makes determining a link relatively easy. This dissertation considers a wide range of effects from heat damage on a variety of common clothing, such as leather and synthetic trainers, denim, and so on. It evaluates whether damage possibly ascribed to arson-related heat damage can be caused by non-criminal means, such as the laying of domestic fires through an assessment of the breadth and location of such damage.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Heath, K., Kobus, H. and Byard, R.W. (2011). 'Potential dangers of accelerant use in arson'. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, vol. 18(2), pp. 49-51.
  • Leung, E.H. and Halliday, D.X. (2010). '"Flashburning"—Interpreting the presence of heat damage to a suspect's clothing and footwear in the investigation of fires'. Science & Justice, vol. 50(4), pp. 187-191.
  • Pert, A.D., Baron, M.G. and Birkett, J.W. (2006). 'Review of analytical techniques for arson residues'. Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 51(5), pp. 1033-1049.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 7:

Contamination: An evaluation of the efficacy of USB devices and remote monitoring software in the management of sex offenders' computer use.

Recent judgements in the UK have determined that sexual offenders have a human right to access the Internet, and that offenders being managed within the community may use computers at home. Accordingly, this changes the nature of how police officers manage offenders' computer use. Currently, police use remote software and USB devices to search for suspicious search terms and Internet use. The dissertation evaluates their effectiveness, particularly with regard to the cross-contamination of USB devices that may be carried from one offender's computer to another offender's computer. This study will include working with existing police and probation officers, as well as several offenders, in addition to forensic computer analysis.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Chan, S., Khader, M., Ang, J., Tan, E., Khoo, K. and Chin, J. (2012). 'Understanding 'happy slapping''. International Journal of Police Science & Management, vol. 14(1), pp. 42-57.
  • Law, F.Y., Chow, K.P., Lai, P.K., Tse, H.K. and Tse, K.W. (2010). 'Digital child pornography: Offender or not offender'. In, Martin, V.G., Garcia-Ruiz, M.A. and Edwards, A. (eds), Technology for facilitating humanity and combating social deviations: Interdisciplinary perspectives, Hershey, PA: IGI Global, pp. 119.
  • Mann, R.E., Ware, J. and Fernandez, Y.M. (2011). 'Managing sexual offender treatment programs'. In, Boer, D.P, Eher, R., Craig, L.A., Miner, M.H. and Pfäfflin, F. (eds), International perspectives on the assessment and treatment of sexual offenders: Theory, practice and research, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 331-354.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 8:

Consideration of the amalgamation of England's police forces: Is there consistency in forensic services across the country?

Forensic Science This paper evaluates the efficiency, accuracy, and resources deployed by the forensic science units of the 43 police forces in England. It considers whether there is consistency in the techniques applied, the resources utilised, the court responses to findings, co-operation with the CPS, services offered, response times, and report writing. Further, it examines in fine detail the forensic departments of three very different police forces: the Greater Manchester Police, the Bedfordshire Police, and the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. The advantages and disadvantages of amalgamation are explored, including from a funding perspective, and recommendations are made to enhance the provision of forensic services in England.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Evans, T., McIlwaine, S. and Elliott, N. (2009). An arresting idea: The management of police services in modern Britain. London: The Adam Smith Institute.
  • Fraser, J. and Ludwig, A. (2010). 'Forensic science and policing in Scotland'. In, Donnelly, D. and Scott, K., Policing Scotland. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 375-398.
  • Kobus, H., Houck, M., Speaker, P., Riley, R. and Witt, T. (2011). 'Managing performance in the forensic sciences: Expectations in light of limited budgets'. Forensic Science Policy & Management: An International Journal, vol. 2(1), pp. 36-43.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 9:

The accuracy of racial estimation in standard hair tests amongst forensic hair examiners of fewer than five years' service.

The rate of accuracy of racial estimation of head and pubic hairs has been brought into question amongst relatively newly qualified forensic hair examiners, particularly in the multicultural environment that is Britain today. This thesis undertakes primary research as well as an extensive literature review to determine the percentage of accuracy of a range of twenty different hairs amongst 100 examiners of limited experience. The hypothesis is that accuracy rates approximate 90%, which is satisfactory at this level of professional maturity. The respondents utilise the facilities at their workplaces (with supervisor agreement) in order to replicate the working environment as closely as possible.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Brooks, E.M. and Robertson, J. (2012). 'Natural and unnatural hair loss as detected in the forensic context'. Handbook of Hair in Health and Disease, vol. 1(1), pp. 216-235.
  • Houck, M.M. and Siegel, J.A. (2010). Fundamentals of forensic science. Kidlington: Elsevier.
  • Shelton, H.D. (2010). Forensic science in court: Challenges in the twenty first century. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Example forensic science dissertation topic 10:

A comparison of illicit tablet recognition systems.

The prevalence of illicit drugs in tablet form is high in the UK, through the proliferation of lifestyle drugs such as Ecstasy. Over the last year two new systems for speedy pill identification have been devised. This dissertation evaluates the applicability of both systems for the UK forensic science environment and the reliability of the systems within a broader European context. The first system, Pill-ID, focuses on colour and pattern recognition, whilst the second, by Lopatka and van Houten (2013) is designed to assist in shape classification. Finally, the paper considers whether a combination of both systems is the optimal system, and how such a combination may be managed within the UK's forensic science environment.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Lee, Y-B., Park, U., Jain, A.K. and Lee, S.W. (2012). 'Pill-ID: Matching and retrieval of drug pill images'. Pattern Recognition Letters, vol. 33(7), pp. 904-910.
  • Lopatka, M. and van Houten, W. (2013). 'Automated shape annotation for illicit tablet preparations: A contour angle based classification from digital images'. Science and Justice, vol. 53(1), pp. 60-66.
  • Vuolo, M. (2013). 'National-level drug policy and young people's illicit drug use: A multilevel analysis of the European Union'. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Available at: Science Direct, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2012.12.012.