Module code: CHEM034

Module Overview

The module shows the relevance of current, continuing developments in biomolecular, physicochemical and analytical science in the application of science in the service of the law, poisonings and the investigation of suspicious deaths. Students are introduced to the nature and molecular characteristics of “blood” and other body fluids, and thence to the DNA “fingerprinting”. Means by which finger marks can be enhanced and further analysed are considered, as are techniques currently under investigation which may lead to step change in the sophistication of information available from such marks and also from trace evidence. The key role of analytical science in forensic toxicology is considered and illustrated, followed by detailed consideration of the scientific evidence available in a range of high profile cases.

This module supports further learning across all chemistry programmes it features in. Particular relevance can be found in the following modules: 

  • CHEM038 (Analytical processes, instrumentation and methods)

  • CHEM037 (Principles of pharmacokinetics, drug processes, schedules)

  • CHEM029 (All principles of forensic investigation) 

Module provider

Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Module Leader

SEARS Patrick (Chst Chm Eng)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 7

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 79

Lecture Hours: 12

Seminar Hours: 18

Laboratory Hours: 4

Guided Learning: 15

Captured Content: 22

Module Availability

Semester 1

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

This module examines contemporary forensic investigation issues, including:  

Body fluid analysis

  • DNA: structure, base pairs, the genetic code, RNA, cell biology, mitochondrial DNA, chromosomes, sexual reproduction

  • DNA in the cell, types of DNA profiling, RFLP, allele specific and STR

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), likelihood ratios

  • CODIS and NDNAD databases, ethical considerations

  • The Colin Pitchfork case, possible surviving relatives of the Tsar, Syrian hamsters, seven daughters of Eve hypothesis.

  • Saliva, salivary amylase, RSID antibody test, whose saliva?

  • Semen, acid phosphatase, microscopic confirmation, whose semen?

  • Advanced methods in DNA profiling

Mass Spectrometry

  • Analysis of evidence by mass spectrometry

  • New techniques in forensic science

  • Non-destructive methods and new imaging mass spectrometry methods

  • Ion beam analysis of trace evidence: gunshot residue particles, solids, fibres, paints and glass

Chemistry of fingerprints

  • Interaction of developers, substrate and environment

  • New types of development/visualisation

  • Sequential development of fingerprints

  • Case studies in fingerprinting

Forensic Toxicology

  • Poisons and routes through the body

    • Toxic dose

    • Sampling

    • Toxicology of “alcohol”

    • Road traffic offences

    • Other intoxicants

  • Toxicological aspects of solvent abuse and drug overdose

  • Non-criminal and criminal case studies

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework Review article coursework 15
Coursework DNA Coursework 15
Coursework GSR analysis coursework 10
Examination Online Online open book examination (4h) 60

Alternative Assessment

Students unable to attend the practical can submit an essay on an agreed title.

Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to allow students to demonstrate that they have successfully met the learning outcomes of the module. 

  Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of: 

  • Coursework (15%): Students will be required to provide critical review modern forensic science and how developing methods may provide key innovations for the forensic investigator (in the format of a literature review from Forensic Science International). 

  • Coursework (15%): Critical review of modern methods of DNA analysis. (15%) 

  • Coursework: (10%): Review and interpret data from a GSR analysis in the context of a forensic investigation (10%) 

  • Examination: 4h online open book exam (70%). Students will complete an examination covering the full range of material discussed in lectures and seminars.  The examination will be designed to test their application of the material presented. 

Why are we doing this? 

The assessment strategy is designed to allow students to develop and test their knowledge and their skills in a manner that not only enhances their understanding of the topic, but also allows them to situate it within the wider context of the subject area, thereby contributing to the coherency of their learning journey. The module therefore builds upon learning (and feedback) acquired in previous modules and the assessments contain valuable employability components and test a range of transferable skills. The assessment strategy enables students to receive feedback from expert staff. 

Formative assessment 

Informal formative assessment is conducted throughout the module during seminars and online where students have the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities and to receive both peer and tutor feedback, with the aim of allowing students to assess their progress week by week. 


Feedback and feedforward on summative assignments will be provided via SurreyLearn. This will indicate what students did well, less well, and what they need to do to improve in the future and will relate both to issues specific to the module and to transferable skills. Formative feedback will be provided throughout the module within in-class discussions and activities, and tutorials. 


Module aims

  • To demonstrate understanding of the scale, scope and application of DNA analysis within the criminal justice system
  • To examine the scope and background of forensic investigation of body fluids and other biological material using mass spectrometry as a key investigative tool
  • To give a detailed account of the approaches to fingerprint / fingermark development
  • To outline the scope of forensic toxicology.
  • To show how the interpretation of data from state-of-the-art tools for material analysis can benefit forensic cases

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Give a critique of the various techniques used in a mass spectrometry laboratory and when to use them KCPT
002 Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the chemistry of body fluids and forensic toxicology, understanding of the value of evidence gathered from them KCP
003 Provide an informed discussion of developing methodologies in forensic investigation, gain competence in their practical use and of their potential for strategic innovation CPT
004 Show how the interpretation of data from modern instrumentation can aid forensic investigations KCT
005 Give a detailed account of the interaction between fingerprints, reagents, substrates and the environment and evaluate current approaches in fingerprint research KCT

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to: 

  • Provide students with a critical understanding of modern analytical techniques as they apply to forensic investigation.

  • Provide students with a detailed understanding of, and a critical appreciation for, biological evidence and its analysis. 

  • Maximise student learning by engaging students with different learning backgrounds and maximising their learning by drawing on their own experiences and contributions to group discussions. 

The student will build from their chemical knowledge to gain in-depth insights into modern and future (under development) techniques applied in forensic investigation.  The utility of these techniques will be discussed through examples which exemplify the underlying science and the correct application of those techniques. The seminar content will extend students’ understanding of the role of forensic investigation, its strengths and limitations via an introduction to forensic toxicology, with extensive use made of non-confidential contemporary case studies.  Students will also be able to integrate their learning from previous modules, for example those relating to forensics and analytical chemistry, thereby ensuring coherency and consistency in the student journey. Furthermore, the learning and teaching strategy is designed to develop students’ confidence and competence in working with others, digital capabilities, leadership, teamwork, communication skills, employability, and professionalism.  

To achieve the above, this module will include a range of teaching methods including standard face to face lectures, sessions from guest speakers. It will also include practical sessions in the crime scene space, flipped learning with seminars to support the video content, with exercises, questions, and recap to provide a pedagogically robust learning experience. Collectively, these methods will combine guided learning, independent learning, and self-reflection. The lectures will introduce and explain key concepts, theories, and core aspects of the practical application of the issues discussed. In order to build confidence and to engage students with diverse learning backgrounds, students will be encouraged to share their thoughts, ideas, and reflections, including those relating to their own experiences. Ongoing feedback opportunities from staff and peers will be variously present in seminars and tutorials, and online. 

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: CHEM034

Other information

Surrey's Curriculum Framework is committed to developing graduates with strengths in Employability, Digital Capabilities, Global and Cultural Capabilities, Sustainability, and Resourcefulness and Resilience. This module is designed to allow students to develop knowledge, skills, and capabilities in the following area: 

Employability: This module allows students to develop their understanding of the latest topics within forensic science, as they apply to crime investigation. Given that this is the final ‘forensic-specific’ module of the programme, students will leave in possession of the latest and best available information relating to their subject area, a proportion of which will have been delivered by external speakers, giving students direct access to professionals currently working in the field and thereby supporting their future career planning for roles in forensic investigation. This will hold clear benefits in relation to their employability as they approach the end of their degree. Transferable skills will be addressed as the module allows students to further practice wider attributes that will be attractive to employers in this field. The focus of the assessment strategy will help to prepare students for the realities of the world of work because it allows them to be familiar with how different types of forensic evidence are utilised into the wider context of crime investigation, and to conduct their own review of previous professional practice. 

Resourcefulness and resilience:  Students will develop their critical thinking, reasoning, decision-making, collaboration, self-reflection and evaluation skills together with the ability to evaluate established and emerging evidential techniques in the context of forensic practice. 

Digital skills: Students will be exposed to several analytical tools including SEM and mass spectrometry each of which will have their own software platform.  Giving students hands-on experience of these systems will help develop digital skills with industry standard software.  The review article will provide the opportunity to deliver a fully formatted journal article, utilising transferrable skills in digital production. 

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Chemistry MChem 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Chemistry with Forensic Investigation MChem 1 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2023/4 academic year.