Forensic Geoscience

Module summary

Module code: GEOL1027
Level: 5
Credits: 15
School: Engineering and Science
Department: Science
Module Coordinator(s): Bruce Haggart



• To provide an understanding of the scientific methodology and techniques that underpin the discipline of Forensic Geoscience. It will concentrate on both macro-scale methods of site investigation and micro-scale field and laboratory techniques used in trace evidence studies.
• To give an appreciation of the limitations and uncertainties associated with the use of the physical, chemical and biological techniques covered, so that due consideration is given to weight of evidence in expert reporting.
• To encourage students to engage in self-directed learning through investigation of an outdoor ‘crime scene’.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:
1. Describe and evaluate a range of physical, chemical and biological analytical methods used in Forensic Geoscience at both the macro- and micro- scale.
2. Analyse and interpret primary data derived from some of these methods and evaluate their limitations
3. Critically assess relevant scientific literature and present concise summaries to an audience.
4. Manage knowledge through a problem based learning approach to crime scene investigation.

Indicative content

• Introduction to the principles and history of Forensic Geoscience.
• Crime Scene investigation techniques including topics taken from the areas of: photogrammetry and laser scanning for crime scene recording, remote sensing of disturbed ground and forensic geophysics.
• Physical characteristics of soil/sediment as trace evidence including some of the following techniques: particle size analysis, colour and particle shape.
• Chemical analysis of soils/sediments as trace evidence using geochemistry and mineralogy.
• The use of biological techniques as trace evidence including topics taken from the areas of: plant macrofossils, diatoms, pollen and other microfossils.
• Sampling and analysis of an outdoor `crime scene’ through problem based learning using a combination of environmental techniques.

Teaching and learning activity

The module is designed around 12 contact periods each of three hours’ duration. Seven sessions will be delivered by lectures. Three sessions will be laboratory based and cover physical, chemical and biological techniques. One session will comprise a student poster presentation and there will be a local outdoor `crime scene’ investigation.

All lectures will use PowerPoint presentation and are to be supplemented by summary structure, notes and suggested further reading on Moodle via the student portal. Laboratory sessions will provide practical experience of Forensic Geoscience techniques and marry theory to practice. Poster presentations will be designed to explore current research and debate in the subject area, reinforcing an ethos to be at the forefront of knowledge in this dynamic subject area. Lastly the outdoor `crime scene’ investigation is designed to follow a problem based learning approach to encourage students to engage themselves in the learning process.


Poster Presentation: 40% weighting, 40% pass mark.
Learning outcome: 4.
Outline Details: The aim of this assessment is to provide an update in an area of Forensic Geoscience of the student's choosing. The intention is to develop academic literature search skills, the ability to synthesise information in an effective manner and to present the information clearly in poster form.

Report: 60% weighting, 40% pass mark.
Learning outcomes 1 - 3 & 5.
Word Length: 2000 words.
Outline Details: Group Outdoor Crime Scene report: The aim is to introduce students to an outdoor crime scene and to use a problem based learning approach to determine the manner of the victim's death and whether the chief suspect can be placed at the scene of the crime. Students will work in groups, each individual within a group using a different forensic geoscience technique to take and analyse environmental samples for comparison with evidential samples.

Formative Assessment: Draft poster submitted for comment and Draft group report submitted for comment.