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Archives - December 2011

Forensic Science – Past, Present and Future

December 01, 2011
By Kevin Lothridge, National Forensic Science Technology Center

Tampa Bay Innovation Center recently hosted a TECH Talk session with Kevin Lothridge, CEO of the National Forensic Science Technology Center, who discussed recent advances in forensic science. We’ve briefly summarized the history and future of forensic science Lothridge presented.

Mention forensic science and most people think of such highly rated television programs as NCIS or CSI – programs sometimes referred to as “edutainment.” Although these programs may not portray forensic science tools and processes entirely accurately, particularly in terms of timing and assignments, they do convey information that creates awareness of technology and advances in the field. In turn, this awareness has attracted the attention of people who are now developing new technologies for our use.

When the first crime labs came into being in the early 1920s, they were primarily concerned with matching fingerprints and lacked the sophistication we’ve come to expect. By the late 70s and early 80s, the Federal government began increasing grant funding to states for development of public crime labs. By the late 1980s, DNA analysis was introduced – a bellwether event for forensic science.

Looking back, there are a number of milestones in the development of forensic science. Fingerprint analysis, automated fingerprint comparisons and the use of DNA analysis for identification all revolutionized the field. In the last decade, analysis of evidence on mobile phones and computers, facial recognition and video enhancement have all become incredibly important as evidence gathering techniques.

Looking forward, rapid DNA analysis – technology that could allow a DNA profile to be generated in less than an hour – may become a regular crime scene investigation tool. In addition, in the future we will most likely see an even more sophisticated analysis of smart tools.

These new technologies, while driven by the requirements of the field, are often created by individuals and companies outside the field of forensic science.   So the next time you watch your favorite forensic science program, remember that there is real science behind it, often generated by technology firms outside the industry, creating a dynamic set of tools that allow law enforcement to solve crimes in ways never possible in the past.

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