Forensic Geology

Wayne C. Isphording

University of South Alabama
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


Course is designed to acquaint students with various methods of instrumental analysis, and their limitations. Laboratory exercises require students to actually make use of a variety of instruments, or to carry out different types of analyses. Case histories are presented for which students must write brief reports commenting on whether "first choice" instruments were used to analyze samples and whether conclusions were justified based on the instrumental, or analytical, technique used.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Geology
Resource Type: Course Information, Goals/Syllabi
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Course Context:

This is an seminar-style course with a suggested prerequisite of Introductory (Physical) Geology. The great majority of students are criminal justice administration majors, but other students from geology, biology, chemistry, nursing, chemistry, sociology, etc. also take the course. Lectures describe various instruments, and their limitations, and the students actually use the various instruments and solve exercises with the resulting data.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to select appropriate analytical techniques that are appropriate for specific samples and to be knowledgeable of any limitations imposed by the method(s)

Students should be able to analyse and interpret the data and arrive at conclusions that are consistent with the analytical procedure(s)that were selected.

Students should also learn which analytical procedures are acceptable for evidence presentation in courts of law (i.e., those that have passed the "judicial test of scientific acceptance."

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Weekly lectures and labs are closely linked. Lectures describe operational logic of the various methods (and their limitations) and examples are presented in class showing actual use in litigenous situations; practical experience is gained from: (1) laboratory exercises requiring actual use of analytical equipment or laboratory procedures and (2)assigned readings of a number of case historied for which students are required to produce reports and to comment as to how well the goals set forth previously were addressed.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

The practical exercises carried out in lab develop the familiarity with instruments and analytical methods. The assigned reports also supplement and provide additional experience in interpreting data. Grades are assigned for all activities, based upon the degree to which the student has "attained goals."


Grades are assigned that reflect how well a particular activity was carried out (a rubric is provided, in advance, to the student that covers sample preparation, machine analysis, data extration, and data interpretation. Grades are also assigned to the written reports on Case Histories that are directed to the principal project goals.

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