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Burning Down the House

A Case Study in Forensic Instrumental Analysis



Co Authors:

Adam M. Boyd
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Randolph K. Larsen, III
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
rklarsen@smcm.edu

Abstract:

In this lab-based case, arson investigator “Marie Stanforth” comes under suspicion when her ex-husband dies in a fire. Students assume the role of forensic chemists working for the FBI to analyze charred samples recovered from the crime scene as well as clothing from the principal suspect, comparing what they find in the samples to accelerant standards whose spectra are already known. Once they have determined whether or not the fire was arson, they must then decide if the allegations against Marie are credible. This case study was designed for an instrumental methods course, but could be adapted for a non-science majors’ course.

Objectives:
  • Introduce GC-MS analysis.
  • Introduce the principles of static headspace analysis.
  • Introduce forensic analysis.
  • Stimulate interest in chemistry.
Keywords: Instrumental analysis; gas chromatography; mass spectrometry; GC-MS; headspace analysis; chromatograms; mass spectra; criminal investigation; forensic investigation; forensic analysis; arson
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Laboratory
Language: English
Subject Headings: Analytical Chemistry   Chemistry (General)   Forensic Science  
Date Posted: 10/20/05
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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