New Graduate Degree Program in Forensic Science Approved

A new graduate program, the M.S. in forensic science, has been approved by the State University of New York and the New York State Education Department. The rapid growth of the undergraduate forensic chemistry program led to the development of the graduate program, according to Scott Goodman, chair and associate professor of chemistry.

“Because of the growing interest in the forensic sciences,” he said, “the field is moving toward requiring graduate work.” Students admitted to the master’s program must have completed 48 credit hours in mathematics and the natural sciences. “A background in forensics is not required,” said Goodman, “but students must have enough undergraduate science to do graduate work.”

The 30-credit-hour program has been designed to be completed in two years. The program unites current theory and practices in forensic science with advanced laboratory training. Students will be required to complete a thesis based on original research. “It might be a very specific project related to forensic science, or it may be more closely tied to chemistry or biology,” said Goodman.

Students in the program will also be required to present seminars, a practice already in place for graduate students in chemistry. “The Grant Allocation Committee funds the Seminars on Thursday series,” said Goodman, “and graduate students present their research there.” Graduates of the program will be able to pursue careers or doctoral studies in analytical chemistry and related fields.

Although housed in the Chemistry Department, the program is interdisciplinary. “Biology is partnering with us,” said Goodman. “Amy McMillan [assistant professor of biology] and I are team-teaching the forensic molecular biology this semester.”

He noted that forensic chemistry is analytical chemistry—the study of the chemical composition of materials—applied to evidence used in court. Much of forensic science relies on identifying and comparing materials—substances found at crime scenes and under suspicious circumstances. The important role played in the criminal justice system by DNA evidence is expected to grow.

A new course prefix—FOR—has been developed to indicate certain required courses, such as principles of forensic science, also available this semester. Required courses include FOR 614: Forensic Applications of Instrumental Analysis and FOR 616: Microscopy in Forensic Science, which will provide students with the skills necessary to work in a modern forensics lab. The microscopy lab used in this program will also serve students in earth sciences, chemistry, and biology. Students will also use an electron microscope located at the University at Buffalo.

Goodman hopes that as the program develops, interested faculty members in other departments will choose to develop forensic courses related to their disciplines.