ANTHROPOMETRY: Studying the New Forensics

14 Minutes

Anthropometry is the science that defines physical measures of a person’s size, form, and functional capacities. Forensic science (often shortened to forensics) is the practical application of science to matters of the law. In criminal law, forensics science can help prove the guilt or innocence of the defendant. In civil actions, forensics can help resolve a broad spectrum of legal issues through the identification, analysis and evaluation of physical evidence. This program will discuss how new innovations and discoveries in forensic technology have important scientific applications beyond law.


Forensics is the application of science to help authorities gather and analyze material found at a crime scene. It typically requires the detailed collection of evidence with a sophisticated array of high tech tools. Although much of forensic science is used by police to help investigate criminal activity, its original function was to aid the legal system, including the civil courts and public inquiries. It actually dates back as far as 500 BC with one of its first applications, fingerprinting by the ancient Chinese to identify business documents.

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The term “forensic” comes from the Latin and means, simply, having to do with the law. Hence, any discipline that has any ties to the legal system is forensic, and despite the modern day fascination with forensic science, it actually dates back as far as 500 BC. One of its first applications was fingerprinting by the ancient Chinese who would use fingerprints to identify business documents. With regard to forensic science, the term is now commonly understood to refer to the application of scientific principles to questions of law. In short, it means using science to solve crime.

It’s also believed that the first recorded autopsy was performed sometime after the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Since the Roman model is the basis for our court and legal system today, it is fitting that it also provides the precedence for our interest in applying scientific principles in the examination of evidence. In the first century A.D., the Roman orator and jurist Qunitilian was able to show that bloody handprints left at the scene of a murder were meant to frame the defendant, an innocent blind man. As the Roman Empire declined in the west, forensic science remained fairly stagnant for the next millennium, as did the applications of criminology and criminal justice.

In thirteenth century China, the book Hsi Duan Yu (The Washing Away of Wrongs) was published and is considered to be the first known guide to pathology. The work describes, among other things, how to determine a victim’s cause of death. It also detailed how the criminal investigator identified the type of weapon used in a crime, and how to determine whether a death was accidental or murder.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, as the age of enlightenment bloomed, advancements in science and the social conscience saw the field of forensic science receive a revitalization of sorts. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw an explosion of recorded incidents of the use of scientifically obtained evidence to solve crimes and win convictions. In 1835 Scotland Yard’s Henry Goddard became the first person to use physical analysis to connect a bullet to the murder weapon. Then in 1836, a Scottish chemist named James Marsh developed a chemical test to detect arsenic that was used during a murder trial. Perhaps the biggest leap in forensic science, though, came in 1880 with the work of Henry Faulds and William James Herschel, who published a study in the scientific journal Nature that detailed the fact that human fingerprints were unique to individuals, meaning that no two sets were identical.

The advancements of the twentieth century were built largely upon the groundwork laid in the nineteenth century, perfecting techniques in both analysis and preservation of evidence. The first police crime laboratory was set up in France in 1910…while in the United States the first crime lab was established by Los Angeles Police department in 1924. During the 1920s, bullet examination became more precise when American physician Calvin Goddard created the comparison microscope to help determine which bullets came from which shell casings. In the late 1900s, though, perhaps the largest breakthrough in crime scene investigation since fingerprinting became standard practice came with the advent of DNA analysis and identification.

The recent use of DNA in criminal investigations has lead not only to positive identification of countless criminals, but it has also lead to overturns of prior convictions and the release of hundreds of innocent people. With new advances in police technology and computer science, crime scene investigation and forensic science will only become more precise as we head into the future.


Accelerant: A substance that might have been used to quickly start a fire.
Amylase: An enzyme found in saliva that begins the process of digestion.
Arson: The criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property.
Biometrics: The measurable biological or behavioral characteristics used for identification of an individual.
Chromosomes: The basic building blocks of life where the entire genome of an organism is essentially organized and stored in the form of DNA.
Comparison microscope: A device used to analyze side-by-side specimens which results in a split view window enabling two separate objects to be compared simultaneously.
Confirmatory test: The test required to confirm the analysis produced by the presumptive test.
DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid, which is the hereditary material in nearly every cell of humans and almost all other organisms.
Facial thermography: a program where an energy expert inspects your home and suggests ways you can save energy.
Fingerprint: A unique mark used for identification made by the tip of a finger on an object that it has touched.
Forensics: Using science to help the authorities investigate and analyze a crime scene.
Forensic anthropology: The study of a human skeleton to find clues regarding the individual’s identity, possible cause of death, and/or uncover evidence of a crime.
Gas-chromatograph: A device used to analyze a sample that can be vaporized without decomposition.
Infrared radiation: Used by technicians to identify the structure and chemical components of a substance by measuring the amount absorbed.
Latent fingerprints: Made when sweat, oil, and other substances on the skin reproduce fingerprints on a surface such as glass.
Microcrystalline test: Used to identify a suspected substance by adding it to a chemical on a slide and having the mixture form crystals.
Phenolphthalein: A solution that is normally colorless but turns pink when blood is present.
Polarized light microscope: A device that views a suspected substance illuminated with polarized light to determine its properties.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR): The technique to make millions of copies of DNA from a tiny sample of genetic material for further testing.
Presumptive test: An analysis of a sample which establishes either the sample is definitely not a certain substance or the sample probably is the substance.
Scanning electron microscope: A device that produces images of a sample by scanning it with a focused beam of electrons to determine the sample’s surface features and composition.
Static headspace test: Occurs when a substance is heated, causing the residue to separate and vaporize into the top, or “headspace” of the container for possible identification.
Ultraviolet spectrophotometry: Used in presumptive tests which analyzes the way a substance reacts to ultraviolet light.

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