We mark 50 years of Forensic Science

a female researcher injects a sample from a device into a small container

Staff and students are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the UK’s longest established forensic science postgraduate degree.

The Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde is commemorating 50 years of its Forensic Science MSc with a series of guest lectures throughout the year. Strathclyde alumni and experts from across the field will present a series of lectures, offering individual insights into the career of a forensic scientist.

First postgraduate degree

In 1966, Dr Francis Fish, in Strathclyde’s former School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, noted there was no postgraduate training available for forensic scientists. After consulting with Glasgow Police, a structured Masters degree course was created at the University. Dr Fish later became the first professor in the UK to be associated with forensic science as opposed to medicine.

Since then, more than 1,000 postgraduate students have completed the Strathclyde Forensic Science MSc, which has now gained worldwide recognition and become a member of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI). Alumni now represent a global network of graduates in highly respected positions including chief government scientists, CEOs of professional bodies and directors of national forensic laboratories.

Over the last 50 years, Strathclyde professors have regularly been called upon to present evidence in many criminal law cases including the 1974 case of ‘Angel of Death’ Sister Jessie McTavish, convicted of murdering a patient with insulin, the Birmingham, Oklahoma and other high profile bombing cases, and the Francisco Jose Boo Torres case which, at that time, involved the biggest drugs haul in Scotland. They have also been invited to advise the Home Office, the House of Lords Select Committee and the Forensic Science Regulator about shortcomings in forensic techniques and specific investigations including the Damilola Taylor, Rachel Nickell and Suzanne Pilley killings. They have been elected to positions of prominence including presidents of the Forensic Science Society.

In 2013, the department launched Strathclyde’s first Massive, Online, Open Course (MOOC) titled ‘Introduction to Forensic Science’ to engage with anyone with an interest in the science. The course follows a staged murder investigation on the shores of Loch Lomond, where each week a different forensic practice is explored. The course has run five times with more than 67,000 learners signing up since its launch.

In 2016, the University appointed Angela Gallop CBE as its first professor of practice and strategic director for forensic science. Angela is using her long experience of setting up and running successful forensic laboratories to strengthen links between Strathclyde and operational forensics, providing a central focus for critical forensic science second opinions – for both prosecution and defence, within the Scottish criminal justice system.

Professor Duncan Graham, Head of Pure & Applied Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde, said:

50 years is a fantastic milestone. Over the last five decades the Centre for Forensic Science has made a substantial contribution to the development of forensic science – through the excellence of its teaching, research, second opinion services and engagement in the development of policy and practice in the field. This is well appreciated within the profession and it is right that we should be recognising and celebrating it.

The full list of events are below:

  • 10 May – ‘Insight into the role of the forensic chemist’ by Richard Vallance, Forensic Chemist, Scottish Police Authority Forensic Services
  • 26 July – ‘A career in Forensic Science, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ by Anya Hunt, Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences
  • 18 Sept – ‘A bloody 38 years in Forensic Science’ by Jack Ballantyne, Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of Central Florida
  • 4 October – ‘A forensic odyssey – lessons learned for forensic science’ by Bill Tilstone, former lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, forensic science laboratory director in Australia and Executive Director of National Forensic Science Technology Center, USA.
  • 4 December – Title TBC – Elizabeth McGhee, research scientist, National Physical Laboratory.