Criminal forensic experts are essentially detectives in a lab coat. These highly trained professionals are charged with reconstructing events, crime scenes and nefarious behavior using their knowledge of technology, physics, chemistry, and biology (among other scientific disciplines.) As a result of the hard work of a forensic specialist, law enforcement officers are provided more ammunition in their investigative pursuits of truth and justice.
Scientific and technological advancements are moving at a rapid pace. And with that, the world of forensics is evolving. The need for specialists is increasing quickly, and so is the requirement for state-of-the-art labs that can foster growth and innovation.
With that said, here’s a listing of some of the top domestic and international forensic labs.
Oglebay Hall Laboratories (Morgantown, WV)
Housed within the Department of Forensic and Investigative Science at West Virginia University, Oglebay Hall is a massive 18,000 square foot forensic lab. It was recently renovated to include the most technologically advanced forensic equipment, with a focus on tech involving trace evidence, microscopy, DNA analysis, forensic chemistry, latent prints, and questioned documents.
Alongside Oglebay Hall is the university’s Crime Scene Training Complex, which is the largest of its type in the nation. The complex has four crime scene houses, a vehicle processing garage, a ballistics test center, and specialized outdoor venues that allow for realistic simulations of crime scenes.
The university was the first to offer students bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in general forensic science.
Purdue Cybersecurity and Forensics Laboratory (West Lafayette, IN)
A pioneer in computer crime investigatory work, the Purdue Cybersecurity and Forensics Laboratory focuses on digital and cybersecurity forensics, from both an educational and practitioner standpoint.
Assisting with both the education of future forensic scientists and ongoing law enforcement investigations, this digital forensics-focused lab is a leader in both developing innovations for theoretical future issues, as well as current cybersecurity threats.
Known for its collaborative spirit, the Purdue Cybersecurity lab has a storied past of sharing insights, best practices, and cutting-edge research with both private and public entities alike.
Virginia Department of Forensic Science (Richmond, VA)
Providing independent forensic services to more than 400 law enforcement agencies, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS) is a well-funded, world-class operation. With a central laboratory in Richmond and four regional facilities, the laboratory excels in DNA analysis, ballistics, toxicology, trace evidence and training.
At the forefront of forensic innovation, the DFS was the first state laboratory to offer DNA analysis to police departments; to create a DNA database of convicted sex offenders; and to pioneer the recording of DNA samples from felons. The DFS has familial DNA search capabilities and has been engaged in this work long before it became mainstream practice.
Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) (the Hague, Netherlands)
Operating from its hi-tech, modern facility in the diplomatic epicenter of the Netherlands, the NFI invests heavily in research and development. At the forefront of both European and global forensic methods, the NFI invented Hansken, a system that compresses large amounts of forensic data, making it readily available for investigators at an amazing speed.
The ability to access such massive amounts of indexed and searchable data in a matter of seconds has aided law enforcement in cracking some major, unsolved crimes. One such example is the Hansken glass database, which stores information from glass shards at crime scenes, enabling police to quickly link perps to crimes ranging from high-end heists to simple burglaries where broken glass is involved.
European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI)
Founded in 1995 with the aim of improving the cross-border exchange of information relating to forensic innovation, the ENFSI has recently been focusing primarily on improving the overall quality of European forensic science.
In addition to improving quality and competence, the ENFSI also focuses heavily on research, development, and training within its 17 different expert working groups, which include firearms, documents, DNA, tracing and explosives. The European Commission has formally recognized the importance of ENFSI as the preeminent continental organization in the field of forensics.
Hancom GMD (South Korea)
In many nations, forensics is handled by corporations or other non-state sponsored organizations. For example, in Korea, Hancom GMD is a private entity that is at the forefront of digital forensics. Due to the rapid rise in the usage of smartphones, data extraction for criminal investigations has become vital and costly. And that’s where Hancom GMD comes into play.
A few years ago, their forensics team extracted and analyzed data from over 300 smartphones in an investigation pertaining to one of the biggest political scandals in the history of S. Korea. The country’s then-current president was accused of bribery. With only 60 days to investigate and prosecute, the forensic team was put to task, and was able to deliver sound results.
Recently, they contracted with the United Kingdom to provide digital forensic analysis, and the lab is heavily involved in data extraction from the cloud for investigative purposes.
Public and private forensic science work is growing rapidly. Scientists from across the globe are collaborating and sharing information for the overall betterment of forensic science. It’s exciting to think about the innovations that are soon to come. Do you know of any labs that deserve recognition for their excellent work?
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