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Burning Down the House

A Case Study in Forensic Instrumental Analysis


Author(s)

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 Areas

N/A

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division

Format

PDF

Type / Methods

Laboratory

Language

English

Subject Headings

Analytical Chemistry  |   Chemistry (General)  |   Forensic Science  |  


Date Posted

10/20/05

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