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.

SubscribeGet emails when new questions are answered. Ask Me Anything!Show Bio +


Ask me anything!

Submit Your Question

972 Questions


Last Answer on July 21, 2022

Best Rated

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 10 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!

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

Asked by ChrisnMike about 10 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.

What made you want to become a Forensic scientist?

Asked by Nikkie over 9 years ago

I loved mysteries but didn't want to be a cop. I don't really want to deal with people under stress on a daily basis. This job has enough variety to be interesting but enough routine to keep the homebody in me comfortable.

For trace comparison, how much glass from a crime scene would you recover in order for a controlled comparison to that found on a suspects?
6 or 12 and where from?

Thank You.

Asked by Mike over 9 years ago

I  don't know what you mean by 6 or 12, but I asked a former co-worker who used to analyze glass in an ICP (inductively coupled plasma) and he said the current state of the art for glass analysis is LA-ICP-MS (LA = laser ablation). This uses a laser to vaporize a small amount of sample and then runs it through both an ICP and a mass spec. (only about $300,000). I'm sure a small amount is a very small chip or sliver. I know when I did glass analysis on an old hot stage we only needed a tiny chip. He also said you should contact Florida International University because it is "the epicenter of glass analysis".

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. over 9 years ago

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

what college did you go to?

Asked by Nikkie over 9 years ago

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

Hi, I'm writing a research paper. How often do you have to present evidence in front of a jury as an expert witness and has it become more difficult as the popularity of crime dramas has increased?

Asked by Madison over 9 years ago

That depends on a lot of factors. In Cleveland I went to court a lot more often because--since it was a coroner's office--practically every case was a homicide and many went to trial. In Florida at the police department we have few homicides and a lot of burglaries and such, the types of crimes that tend to get pled out or dismissed. So I might go to court twice in one week and then not again for three months. And yes, the popularity of crime dramas has definitely made things more difficult because a jury expects to be 'wowed' with cool science in each and every case, and sometimes that just isn't there. It's not a bad thing that there's increased scrutiny on forensic testimony, of course, only that expectations can be unrealistic--in both directions. It can harm the prosecution's case if the jury expects DNA evidence in, say, a robbery case where someone walked in and walked out and didn't leave any DNA, and it can harm a defense's case if the jury has such faith in science that that evidence is all they give weight to. (Excuse the clunky grammar please.)