Posted by Fred Koenig on Mar 2nd 2023

How Are Forensic Microscopes Used in Real Applications?

What Is a Forensic Microscope

The field of forensic science is sometimes called criminalistics and it often focuses on analyzing crime scenes through scientific measures. Most people are familiar with forensics and its applications in crime through television, movies, or podcasts.

One very common and essential tool used in forensics is a microscope. Forensic microscopy is a critical component of modern crime scene analysis, the applications are limitless, and the results are indispensable. From comparing hairs and fibers to detecting bullet contour striations, microscopes are used throughout the forensic process.

Many microscopes are used in forensic work but because so much of forensics involves comparing samples, a comparison microscope can be particularly useful.

What Is a Comparison Microscope

A comparison microscope is used for viewing samples that need identification, an origin date, and to be compared to other samples. They’re high-quality microscopes that feature two stages so two samples can be viewed simultaneously. A built-in split screen in the bridge connects the two viewing heads so there are immediate side-by-side images available for comparison.

Other Microscopes Used in Forensics

Comparison microscopes are essential in forensics, but there are some other microscopy tools that can be just as beneficial.

  • Stereomicroscopy.stereo microscope provides a three-dimensional view of specimens.
  • Polarized light microscopy. Polarized illumination has a different effect on different materials, this enables scientists and criminalists to identify trace evidence by the way the polarized light reflects off surfaces. 
  • Scanning electron microscopy. Scanning electron microscopy (EM) is frequently used to visually and chemically analyze samples. Most people are familiar with the concept of gunshot residue (GSR) analysis, which is usually done with a scanning electron microscope.
  • Infrared microspectroscopy. Infrared radiation is absorbed by molecules at different frequencies, this provides information about what the sample contains, which can include trace evidence.

How Do Forensic Scientists Use Microscopes

Forensic scientists use microscopes to locate, isolate, identify, and compare samples. Often, this is part of the investigative process in the criminal justice system. The following are some common places where forensic scientists rely on the data they discover through the use of microscopes.

  • Criminal science. Evidence found at the scene of a crime, especially the difficult-to-detect trace evidence, often yields more information when viewed through a microscope. This can lead the investigation toward a suspect or solution.
  • Forensic epidemiology. Epidemiology is the study of diseases and the way they’re spread. A forensic epidemiologist can look at outbreaks and trace them back to the source. In some situations, this can have criminal or civil legal implications.
  • Forensic pathology. When a cause of death is unclear or in question, forensic pathologists use microscopes to check for clues as to what happened. They’re also often called to provide a time of death as well.

What Are Some Real-World Applications for Forensic Microscopes

Let’s look at some real-world situations where forensic microscopes played a hand in solving crime.

  • Ted Bundy. This infamous serial killer was forensically tied to the murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, his last known victim, through several pieces of evidence, one that was particularly impactful was fiber evidence from her clothing found on Ted Bundy’s clothing and in his van. Using stereomicroscopy, it was determined that the two people were in close contact at the time of her death.
  • John Joubert. In 1983, two boys in Omaha, Nebraska were murdered. The body of one of the boys was tied with an unusual type of rope that wasn’t easily identified. While investigating a “mysterious man” seen around a local school, the police became aware of John Joubert. When searching his belongings, they found a rope matching the one in question. Not only did forensic microscopes help tie him to the rope evidence, a hair from one of the victims was found in Joubert’s vehicle and identified through microscopy.
  • Bruno Richard Hauptmann. In 1932, the kidnapping of aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh’s son was news around the globe – in fact, it was dubbed the crime of the century at the time. While Hauptmann was first brought to light as a suspect after spending some of the ransom money, it was the forensic connection between the homemade ladder at the crime scene and a wood board in Hauptmann’s attic as well as holes in the fabrication of the ladder and his attic joists.

If you’re interested in learning more about microscopes for forensic science applications or purchasing a forensic microscope, contact our team at New York Microscope Company. Our trained experts are happy to help you find a microscope that fits your specific needs and one that lands within your budget parameters.