Although we will be focusing on the forensic sciences that typically take place in a crime laboratory, there are other types of forensic sciences that are specialized and focused on a particular area. In this section, we will briefly take a look at some of these specialty areas.
Pathology is a science that deals with disease. Pathologists make use of autopsies to study the tissues and other parts of the human body for diseases. An autopsy is a dissection and examination of the body, often to determine why the person died. Pathologists may study samples like blood, tissue, and urine to identify and learn more about diseases in the body. Forensic pathology is the extension of this specialty to the criminal justice system. Forensic pathology studies sudden, unexplained, and violent deaths by using autopsies to determine the cause of death in an individual. The scientists in this field may work as medical examiners or coroners.
One of the tasks that a forensic pathologist might have is to determine the time of death for a body. The medical examiner or coroner may participate in the criminal investigation by evaluating the stage of decomposition in the body. Following a person's death, the muscles of the body relax and then become rigid. Rigor Mortis, as this rigidity is known, occurs within 24 hours after death and goes away after about 36 hours. Liver Mortis also happens soon after death. This condition in the body happens as the blood stops pumping through the body and settles in the parts of the body lowest to the ground. This condition occurs within the first 12 hours after death. Another condition that can help determine the time of death is algor mortis, which is the gradual cooling of the body after death. Forensic pathologists have to consider factors like where the body is, the air temperature, and the size of the body to determine the time of death from its temperature.
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