Forensic geology is the study of the soil, sand, minerals, and other natural materials found in the earth to solve a crime. Several sources attribute the origination of soil analysis to the fictional Sherlock Holmes detective books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle written between 1887 and 1893. The first application of soil science occurred in 1904 in Frankfurt, Germany by Georg Popp, a forensic scientist. Mr. Popp investigated the murder of Eva Disch found strangled in a bean field. By comparing the soil removed from the trousers of the suspect, Karl Laubach, to the minerals (mica-rich mud) at the crime scene, Mr. Popp solved the case.
Forensic science is a multi-disciplinary field that involves an array of sciences. The standard ones are biology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, toxicology, and genetics. However, other sciences are integral to solving a crime. Depending on the location of the crime and condition of the body, botany, geology, archaeology, anthropology, and entomology also come into play. A geologist with expertise in forensic soil examination could be the best chance to solve a murder when the only evidence is grains of sand or potting soil on the suspect’s shoes.
Unfortunately, the list is short for schools offering classes in forensic soil science. The Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program (FIVS) at Texas A&M has one course on this subject. They have two Bachelor of Science options:
- Science Emphasis – Accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
- Pre-Law Emphasis – Non-FEPAC Accredited
The FIVS four-year 120 credit hours degree has classes that follow most curricula in forensic science. They concentrate on biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. In your senior year, there is a course on Forensic Soil Science. The material covers the biological, chemical, and physical attributes of soil to solve crimes. This course expands on investigative techniques and procedures learned to preserve, document, collect and analyze evidence.
You could obtain your knowledge of geology in a bachelor’s program in this major. The regular geology curriculum includes chemistry, physics, and calculus. The classes in your major might study geological hazards, mineralogy, stratigraphy, petrology (the study of rocks), and sedimentation. A study plan that incorporates lab work is advantageous. Learning about the composition and crystallography of materials applies to identify minerals using chemical, physical, microscopy, and x-ray methods.
At the master’s level, the choice of schools offering a concentration in forensic geology or forensic soil science is sparse. Specializations exist in forensic biology, chemistry, toxicology, psychology, and anthropology. To resolve this issue, you may need to redirect your academic route. A possibility is to enroll in a bachelor’s degree in forensic science followed by a graduate degree in geology, geosciences, or soil science. The latter generally provide courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and morphology. Soil morphology explores the composition of soil – carbonates, iron, carbon, clay, and manganese.
When reviewing graduate programs in soil science, you will see that some combine it with crop science. Your studies take you into seed science, plant breeding, crop management, which are not relevant to forensics work. The preferable choice is one with an emphasis on courses mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Also, some institutions have other combinations, such as plant and soil science, soil science and water management, or environmental and soil science.
A Master of Science in Geology at a school with a well-equipped lab will expose you to different instruments and technology. You can become proficient in various microscopes such as electron reflected light, petrographic, scanning, and atomic force. Scientists use this equipment in the analysis of soil samples from a crime scene. Before selecting this degree, you need to check the admission requirements of the respective college or university. Some may require an undergraduate degree in geology or related field. You want to verify if a bachelor’s degree in forensic science is eligible.
Another consideration is a Master of Earth Science. This program focuses on chemistry, calculus, and geology. Again, the admission eligibility stipulates a baccalaureate in geology or related field. The curriculum does not favor the application of soil analysis that is imperative for forensics.
Because of the specialized nature of forensic geology, an undergraduate degree in forensic science and a master’s in soil science seem to be compatible. The bachelor’s degree will teach the requisite sciences and investigative techniques. The advanced degree will supply the proficiency and expertise in soil analysis. Furthermore, an advanced degree will provide more opportunities for employment in the field of forensics.
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