What is Serology?
Forensic serology is the detection, classification, and study of various bodily fluids such as blood, semen, fecal matter and perspiration, and their relationship to a crime scene. The criminal acts can range from physical assault to sexual assault, right through to the act of murder and all of them will have an element of fluid secretion attached to them.
Not all police departments have a serologist on staff. Instead, they assign the testing to an independent laboratory where a criminalist, a biochemist, a forensic biologist, or other technician performs the tests. Some states rely upon their Chief Medical Examiner’s office, forensic pathologists, or board-certified toxicologists. Professors of biochemistry, hematology, and immunology are another source of experts retained by both prosecution and defense.
Blood is the most common, well known and perhaps most important evidence in the world of criminal justice today. The potential exists for individualized blood typing, and even today, forensic serologists can provide testimony with some strong probability estimates linking a single individual, and that individual only, to a bloodstain.
These scientists normally possess a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, while a chief serologist would possess an M.D. or Ph.D. However, it’s rare to find chief serologists, and the Bachelor’s degree is most common. Since this field is highly science-based, an undergraduate degree in human biology or chemistry is preferrable. Another degree choice is human biology. s may qualify you for a career in forensic serology, including biology, chemistry, and human biology. Human Biology takes a broad interdisciplinary approach that includes training in the behavioral sciences in addition to the traditional areas of biology. These four-year degrees may include courses in Anatomy and Physiology, Pathology, and Organic Chemistry, all of which can help you develop your knowledge of bodily fluids.
Serology is a specialty area of Forensic Science. There are curricula that allow you to concentrate on a particular area of forensic science, related to the testing of fluids. Examples are:
Forensic Chemistry: Learn about the laboratory techniques and instrumentation used in forensic studies. This includes ultraviolet, infrared, and visible spectrophotometry, neutron activation analysis, gas chromatography, and mass spectrophotometry.
Forensic Biology: Courses include cellular and molecular biology, biochemistry, microscopy, genetics, organic chemistry, and general physics.
Similar to a bachelor’s degree, you will generally find the master’s program located in the school’s forensic science department. However, one exception is a Forensic DNA and Serology concentration offered by the university’s College of Pharmacy. You can complete a 32-credit degree either online or on campus. This degree provides a strong foundation in serology, blood spatter interpretation, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, and the theory of DNA analysis. The program meets the educational guidelines set by the FBI National Standards for DNA Technical Leaders and Supervisors.
A taste of master’s level courses is:
- Biological Evidence and Serology: Provides the basic concepts of forensic serology as it applies to the collection, preservation, and testing of biological evidence.
- Blood Distribution and Spatter: Addresses the principles of blood spatter creation, and bloodstain interpretation as it pertains to biological evidence and will include processes for the appropriate recording, collection and processing of bloodstains and blood spatter evidence.
- Forensic Analysis of DNA: Studies the methods routinely used for the isolation of DNA from cells and techniques applied to DNA quantitation, electrophoretic separation, sequence determination, as well as data interpretation, analysis, and reporting.
- Metabolic Biochemistry: Examines the principles of anabolic and catabolic pathways and cellular energy efficiency. The course also provides an understanding of the biological, physical, and chemical processes for each reaction pathway.
Few schools offer a graduate certificate in forensics. Among the select choices, this is an option for students with a baccalaureate in a natural science who do not want to pursue their master’s degree. The certificate provides students with a strong foundation in serology, nucleic acid chemistry, the theory of DNA analysis, blood spatter analysis, and the interpretation of biological evidence. You can take these courses individually or as well as part of the entire program. The coursework may be of interest to those currently working or seeking employment in law enforcement forensics, military services, and medical personnel.
The University of Florida’s online Graduate Certificate in Forensic DNA & Serology is comprised of five three-credit courses.
Another program for individuals with or without a forensic background is a Graduate Certificate in Forensic and Crime Scene Investigation. This will benefit anyone currently in the field of law enforcement personnel, namely criminal investigators, evidence technicians, forensic nurses, prosecutors, and attorneys. As well as, members of a multidisciplinary team involved in criminal investigations who would like to further develop their skills and expertise.
National University’s Online Graduate Certificate studies the characteristic features of the various types of violent death with the circumstances under which those deaths occur. This affords the knowledge to interact effectively with the forensic pathologist and medico-legal death investigators.
During your college search, you may want to consider colleges/universities accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). The FEPAC accreditation process and policies employ rigorous, consensus standards that assure and advance academic quality at accredited institutions. Their website provides a list of the accredited universities. The Commission accredits forensic science education programs that lead to a bachelor’s or master’s degree in forensic science or in a natural or computer science with a forensic science concentration. An eligible forensic science program must be located in a regionally accredited institution of higher education that requires state or equivalent approval.