Degrees in forensic chemistry are available at the bachelor's and master's levels. Students in both programs may expect to explore toxicology, ballistics, and criminal investigation procedures. In order to enroll in a four-year bachelor's degree, students must be high school graduates, while a two-year master's degree stipulates students hold an undergraduate degree in chemistry.
Bachelor of Science in Forensic Chemistry
Quality forensic chemistry programs provide students with a strong foundation in general, analytical, organic, and physical chemistry, as well as biochemistry. Calculus and physics courses are also often required. Undergraduate programs vary; some confer a B.S. in Chemistry with a concentration in forensic chemistry, while other chemistry departments may offer a minor or certificate in forensic chemistry.
Students acquire critical chemistry lab skills during their course of study. Some forensics-specific topics covered include:
- Drug psychophysiology
- Criminal investigation
- Crime laboratory operations
- Forensic methods
- Biochemistry techniques
Master's Degree in Forensic Chemistry
Forensic chemistry may be an option or concentration within a master's degree program in chemistry; interdisciplinary programs in forensic chemistry may be offered at some schools. Programs typically examine analytical tools and lab procedures for trace evidence, forensic drug analysis, and toxicology.
Graduate programs introduce students to high-tech forensics labs and procedures. Facilities featured by strong programs include state-of-the-art instrumentation laboratories with instruments for microscopy, spectroscopy, and chromatography, among other lab equipment. Internship experiences in crime labs are components of many programs; some universities have relationships with local crime lab facilities that provide students with additional access to real-world experience.
Comparative analysis classes are highlighted in this program, along with presentation techniques for expert witness consultations. Classes cover subjects that include:
- Analysis of trace evidence
- Toxicological characteristics of abused drugs
- Courtroom testimony simulations
- Physical and biological aspects of forensic science
- Accelerants used in arson
Training in Forensic Chemistry
Both those pursuing a degree in chemistry and those who have already earned an undergraduate or graduate degree in chemistry can earn a certificate in forensic chemistry that provides the training necessary for entry-level employment. Graduates with ample experience working in a forensic lab have a job-seeking advantage; therefore, good training programs incorporate an extensive internship into the program. In some programs, students may work full-time in a toxicology or police department crime lab, a medical examiner's office, or for a federal agency, such as the DEA.
The emphasis of certificate programs is on applied forensics chemistry in the lab. In addition to an internship, typical coursework may include:
- Instrumental analysis
- Criminal procedure
- Forensic statistics
- Forensic analytical chemistry
- Biochemistry laboratory techniques
Popular Career Options
While many forensic chemists and scientists are cross-trained to analyze an array of potential evidence, some choose to specialize. Within the forensic scientist field, some specializations include:
- Toxicology and controlled substances
- Fiber and chemical analysis
- Material physics
- DNA analysis
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians were expected to see a 27% increase in employment opportunities between 2014 and 2024. As of May 2015, the median salary for forensic science technicians was reported as $56,320 annually.
The majority of forensic science technicians work for local and state governments. Salary ranges vary depending on which branch of government the forensic chemist works for. The BLS reported the mean annual salaries for each branch in May 2015: $60,680 for local government agencies, $59,430 for state agencies, and $100,400 for the federal executive branch.
Continuing Education Information
Forensic chemists who wish to pursue research into advanced topics may need to earn a Ph.D. in Analytical or Forensic Chemistry. While many universities may not offer a Ph.D. program explicitly in forensic chemistry, the option to focus on forensics may be available. Universities with an institute or research center dedicated to forensic sciences offer graduate students enhanced research opportunities.
Bachelor's and master's degree programs in forensic chemistry include many hands-on lab and internship opportunities that provide students with real experience in the field of forensics. Doctorate degree programs are available for those wishing to pursue research work.