Forensic Scientist

Forensic Scientist

LIsa Black

Cape Coral, FL

Female, 49

I spent the five happiest years of my life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office I analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now I'm a certified latent print examiner and CSI for a police department in Florida. I also write a series of forensic suspense novels, turning the day job into fiction. My books have been translated into six languages.

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Last Answer on July 06, 2018

Best Rated

What's the most important thing forensic science can do today that it couldn't do 5 years ago?

Asked by ChrisnMike about 5 years ago

I would say 'touch DNA', which means get a DNA sample from the sweat, oils, and amino acids left by simply touching something. We now routinely collect swabs from steering wheels, gun triggers and tool handles. That doesn't mean they always have sufficient DNA to do anything with, but surprisingly often they do.

In your professional opinion is a degree (undergrad) in biology favored over a degree in forensic science?

Asked by Denise Olivas about 5 years ago

No, I wouldn't say so. I never use a lot of what I learned in biology on the job. It depends much more on where the degree is from, how many years it took, and how much practical experience in crime scene and lab work was included in the curriculum. You might want to call the crime labs you'd want to work at and ask what kind of degrees their employes have.

I'm in high school right now and I want to become a forensic scientist. Is there a list of courses I should be taking? Or can you recommend any courses?

Asked by Wendy N. almost 5 years ago

You can't go wrong with as much biology and chemistry as you can get, plus some physics and math.

What are the hours you work at your work?

Asked by Nikkie almost 5 years ago

Right now I'm working 12 hour shifts, from 6 am to 6 pm, working out to 80 hours over 2 weeks. At the coroner's office I worked 7:30 to 4:30 and 8-12 on every other Saturday. When I started here at the police department we did 7:30-4:30 M-F. Then we went to, on opposite weeks, having one person work 10 am - 9 pm M-Th. Now there are more people so my 'shift partner' works noon to midnight. That way someone needs to be on overtime call only from midnight to 6 am. So in other words the hours will be determined by where you work, how many forensic people you have, how big the agency is and how determined they are to keep overtime to a minimum.

what type of issues in the forensic science field are still lurking around that cause errors in assumptions or holding progress in a certain study behind

Asked by bob over 4 years ago

I can't think of anything that's industry-wide. Errors in assumptions can be made at any time by any body--like, I might assume you aren't going to get DNA off a gun trigger because I never have, while a brand-new person might assume you will get it regardless of any other factors because a textbook said it was possible, and we both might be wrong or right in that particular case but not others. So most errors would be made by assuming something can't be done, either because a tech or officer never had any luck with it or because they aren't up with the latest information, which will happen anywhere because no one can keep up with anything. As for study, the only thing holding that back is what's always been holding it back--time and money.  Most of us can barely keep up with our caseload, much less take on a research project, and most government budgets have been battered down to sustenence level. It's getting better as the economy improves, and there are major research projects underway through the various forensic organizations, FBI and NIJ.

what college did you go to?

Asked by Nikkie almost 5 years ago

I have a bachelor's in biology from Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio.

I'm working on a thriller novel. Can a person frame someone else by setting up their own suicide to look like murder by using the other person's gun in the other person's house?

Asked by goodcraic2i6n almost 5 years ago

Let me get this straight--so Alex frames Bert by shooting himself (Alex) in Bert's house with Bert's gun? Kind of a drastic way to get back at someone, but certainly possible. Yes, initially it would not look good for Bert at all. However--and this is always the problem with trying to frame someone--what is Bert doing while this is happening? Alex can't be sure that Bert won't be getting a traffic ticket or stuck in an all-day meeting and therefore have an unbreakable alibi? The gun and the condition of the wound would have to be consistent with suicide (unless you do some Agatha Christie rubber-band type of arrangement) but that would not make it impossible for it to be homicide. Alex's fingerprints might be on the gun but that wouldn't rule out a murder (and it's so rare to get a fingerprint off a gun that he might decide not to worry about it). Please don't have Bert, upon discovery of the body, engage in the time honored but still silly tradition of picking up the murder weapon and then saying "I have no idea why I did that..." Human beings have an instinctive revulsion against touching anything associated with a dead body.

Does a neighbor see Alex enter Bert's house when Bert's not home? Is there any sign of forced entry? In other words, forensically there may not be much to say one way or the other--and that's very often true. Forensics will establish facts, but those facts might not be helpful. Forensically we can say Alex died of a gunshot wound from this gun, has gunshot residue on his hands (not suprising since he was in close proximity to a gunshot) and has no other wounds to indicate a struggle. That's about it. Deciding whether it's suicide or murder would likely spring from more traditional investigations--what was Alex doing there, did he know where the gun is, where was Bert, did Bert have a history of violence, did Alex have a history of mental instability, etc. etc.

I hope that helps!