Discovery Guides Areas


From Building Design to Prime Time: Forensic Engineering
(Released July 2008)

  by Marianne Stanczak  


Key Citations

Visual Resources

News & Scholars


So . . . Whodunit?


police line banner
We want action, we want blood, we want DNA tests, fingerprinting, fiber analysis - the works. Due to the influence of television dramas, we are afflicted with what has become known as the "CSI Effect". Symptoms include:

  • The belief that juries demand more physical evidence
  • Police collecting more physical evidence, in turn inundating crime labs
  • More forensic programs in colleges and universities
  • Jurors wanting DNA tests performed more frequently
graph showing increase in forensics degrees
Number of Forensics-related Undergraduate Degrees

"Approximately 40% of the forensics science on CSI does not exist." (Houck)

So what does exist in criminal forensics?

Forensic entomology - the study of the succession of insects at a crime scene This, coupled with meteorological and geological data, can be used to determine time of death, also called PMI, Post-Mortem Interval (American).

DNA tests


Ballistics - the science of projectiles in flight; the study of firearm characteristics when fired

Questioned Documents works hand in hand with visual analysis as well as fingerprint analysis (fingerprints on paper or other supplies used to produce a document) and criminalistics. Criminalistics is the analysis of physical evidence that links the crime scene to the victim to the criminal(s).

How does everything forensic tie together to catch the killer?

In the case of the BTK killer of Wichita, Kansas, it was metadata. Behind word processing documents, spreadsheets and the like, information is produced; this is metadata, or data that provides information about other data. Dennis Rader, using a computer at his church, unknowingly sent metadata to a television station. This subsequently led to his capture in 2005 (National).

Erik and Lyle Menendez, accused of killing their parents in the sensational 1993 trial, also were forced to pay heed to computers. This time, it was a computer re-enactment of the crime. Despite many flaws - the main one being the re-enactors lack of experience in criminalistics (it was a firm dealing mainly with the automotive industry)-the brothers were convicted.

The one that got away - again and again. A diary from the Jack the Ripper case was analyzed in 1991 using aforementioned questioned document techniques including:
classic sleuth

  • Handwriting and ink analysis
  • Infrared testing
  • Ultraviolet testing
  • Electrostatic detection
  • Chromatography
  • Ion migration
These techniques, not available at the time of the Whitechapel Murders, did prove that the diary in question was a fake. Unfortunately, they did not did not bring the mystery any closer to being solved.

CSI: Egypt??

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time, carried via tales through the eons, was the death of King Tut in the 14th century B.C. Claims of a traitor double crossing the Boy King were negated by using computer tomography, which showed no blow to the skull.

King Tut's tomb Profile of King Tut's tomb
King Tutankhamun's Tomb
The scan also showed that he did not die from disease. However, any damage seen is not certain to have occured during his lifetime, or at his death, or from archaeologist Howard Carter's unearthing of him.

Perhaps more forensic engineering is called for?

© 2008, ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved.

List of Visuals


  1. American board of forensic entomology.
  2. Atimtay, E., & Kanit, R. (2006). Learning seismic design from the earthquake itself. Practice Periodical on Structural Design and Construction, 11(3), 149-160.
  3. Bartlett, W. D., Wright, B., Masory, O., Schmidt, B., Brach, R., Baxter, A. T., et al. (2002). Evaluating the uncertainty in various measurement tasks common to accident reconstruction.
  4. Bibb, K. L., & Prabhu, R. K. (2004). Computational aerodynamics of shuttle orbiter damage scenarios in support of the columbia accident investigation (84C Space Technology: Manned Spacecraft; 84F Space Technology: Space Safety; 51A Aeronautics & Aerodynamics: Aerodynamics; 84B Space Technology: Extraterrestrial Exploration No. N20040084368). United States:
  5. Bowles, J. B. (2002). Failure modes and effects analysis USA.
  6. Chen, S., Lim, E., Lee, W., Davis, C., Bell, M., Xio, Q., et al. (2007). Cycling variational assimilation of remotely sensed observations for prediction of hurricane katrina. EOS Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 88(52), Suppl. Volume 1.
  7. Cho, A., Ichniowski, T., & Angelo, W. (2007). Engineers await tragedy's inevitable impacts. Enr, 259(6), 12-16.
  8. Chui, K. L., Chiu, W. K., & Yu, K. M. (2008). Direct 5-axis tool-path generation from point cloud input using 3D biarc fitting. Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, 24(2), 270-286.
  9. Corley, W. G., & Sturm, R. (2001). Forensic engineering: Lessons learned from the oklahoma city bombing (part one). United States
  10. De Luca, A. (2003). The collapse of the WTC twin towers: Preliminary analysis of the original design approach. STESSA 2003: Proceedings of the Conference on Behaviour of Steel Structures in Seismic Areas, Naples; Italy. 81-87.
  11. Earthquake technology fights crime.
  12. Forensic investigation on aircraft aging.
  13. Fox, M., Hastings, R., Lovald, S., & Heinrich, J. (2007). Case study of an aerosol explosion and a method to determine explosion temperatures. Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention, 7(3), 165-174.
  14. Gagg, C. (2005). Domestic product failures - case studies. Engineering Failure Analysis, 12(5), 784-807.
  15. Gorski, Z. M., German, A., & Nowak, E. S. (1990). Examination and analysis of seat belt loading marks. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 35(1), 69-79.
  16. Hall, A. (2006). Structural forensics. American Reconstruction, 1(8), 14, 16.
  17. Hallahan, J. (2007). Countering insider threats - handling insider threats using dynamic, run-time forensics (62D Computers, Control & Information Theory: Information Processing Standards; 62 Computers, Control & Information Theory No. AFRLRIRSTR2007213; ADA473440). Rome, NY; United States: PAR Government Systems Corp.
  18. Hansen, M. (1996). Failure of analysis? ABA Journal, 82, 18-20.
  19. Hollien, H. (1990). Acoustics of crime: The new science of forensic phonetics.
  20. Holzer, T. L. (2007). Forensic seismology; geological society of america, 2007 annual meeting. Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America, 39(6), 198.
  21. Houck, M. M. (2006). CSI: Reality. Scientific American, 295(1), 84-89.
  22. Investigators blame weak links for new orleans levee failures.(2005). CE News, 17(11), 14.
  23. Kakar, A., & Crider, D. (2007). Parameter extraction using simulation for aircraft accident investigation. AIAA Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference Proceedings,
  24. Karim, M. R., & Fatt, M. S. H. (2005). Impact of the boeing 767 aircraft into the world trade center. Journal of Engineering Mechanics, 131(10), 1066-1072.
  25. Leary, W. E. (2001). Compressed air and gravity: Physics finished what terror began. New York Times, , F2, September 25.
  26. Lesney, M. S. (2004). Forensic mass spectrometry. Today's Chemist at Work, 13(10, pp. 15-16), October.
  27. Levinson, J. (2001). Questioned documents: A lawyer's handbook. San Diego: Academic Press.
  28. Manning, C. R., & Wenzel, T. C. (2002). Modeling and accident reconstruction USA.
  29. Marshall, A., & Quintiere, J. (2007). A collective undergraduate class project reconstructing the september 11, 2001 world trade center fire. 2007 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition (ASEE Conferences Excellence in Education),
  30. National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Ctr (NLECTC), 2277 Research Boulevard, Mail Stop 8J, Rockville, MD 20850. (2005). Technology primer: Data...about your data.
  31. Nickell, J. (1997). "Jack the ripper diary": History or hoax. International Journal of Forensic Document Examiners, 3(1), 59.
  32. Nunes, L. C. d. S., & dos Santos,Paulo Acioly M. (2004). An application of stereoscopy and image processing in forensics: Recovering obliterated firearms serial number. Proc.SPIE, SPIE-5622, 208-212.
  33. O'Connell, H. M., Dexter, R. J., Bergson, P. E., & Bergson, P. M. (2001). Fatigue evaluation of the deck truss of bridge 9340 (50A Civil Engineering: Highway Engineering; 50B Civil Engineering: Civil Engineering; 91B Urban & Regional Technology & Development: Transportation & Traffic Planning; 43G Problem-Solving Information For State & Local Governments: Transportation(TRUNCATED) No. MNRC200110; PB2007112078). Minneapolis. Dept. of Civil Engineering; United States: Minnesota Univ.
  34. Petroski, H. (2006). Levees and other raised ground. American Scientist, 94(1, pp. 7-11), January/February.
  35. Robertson, I. N., Riggs, H. R., Yim, S. C. S., & Young, Y. L. (2007). Lessons from hurricane katrina storm surge on bridges and buildings. Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, 133(6), 463-483.
  36. Rybczynski, W. (2002). What we learned about tall buildings from the world trade center; collapse. Discover, 23(10, pp. 68-75), October.
  37. Schaathun, H. G. (2006). The boneh-shaw fingerprinting scheme is better than we thought. IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security, 1(2), 248-255.
  38. Sills, G. L., Vroman, N. D., Wahl, R. E., & Schwanz, N. T. (2007). Lessons learned from the levee failures in the new orleans area and their impact on levee design and assessment across the nation. Geo-Denver 2007: New Peaks in Geotechnics; Denver, CO; USA; 18-21 Feb. 2007
  39. Slane, J. H., Butler, R. J., Emmerling, J. J., Morris, S. L., Winn, R. C., & Kumley, K. B. (2007). Evaluation of a general aviation flight data recorder. AIAA Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference Proceedings,
  40. Smith, C. O. (2002). Products liability and design USA.
  41. Smith, P. J., ODoherty, P., Luna, C., & McCarthy, S. (2004). Optical forensics for tracing counterfeit recorded media. Proc.SPIE, SPIE-5616, 40-46.
  42. Spacecraft 'black box' being developed.(2005). Aerospace Engineering, 25(4), 22-23.
  43. Summary report on building performance. hurricane katrina 2005(2006). (89D Building Industry Technology: Structural Analyses; 89E Building Industry Technology: Building Standards & Codes No. PB2008107010). Washington, DC; United States: Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  44. Tran, D., & Hernandez, E. Use of the vertical motion simulator in support of the american airlines flight 587 accident investigation. AIAA Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference and Exhibit; Providence, RI; August 16-19,
  45. Tschan, J. S. (2007). Forensic examination of laser printers and photocopiers using digital image analysis to assess print characteristics. Journal of Imaging Science and Technology, 51(4), 299-309.
  46. Usmani, A. S., Chung, Y. C., & Torero, J. L. (2003). How did the WTC towers collapse: A new theory. Fire Safety Journal, 38(6), 501-533.
  47. Voort, G. F. V. (2002). Conducting a failure examination. ASM Handbook, USA.
  48. Williams, A. R. (2005). Modern technology reopens the ancient case of king tut. National Geographic, 207(6), 2-21.
  49. Would FEA have saved the I-35 bridge?(2008).
  50. Young, M. L. (1988). Vehicular accident reconstruction: A literature search. Forensic Engineering, 1(4), 105.
  51. Zhang, X., Jin, X., Li, Y., & Li, G. (2008). Improved design of the main energy-absorbing automotive parts based on traffic accident analysis. Materials and Design, 29(2), 403-410.
  52. Zhou, Q., & Yu, T. X. (2004). Use of high-efficiency energy absorbing device to arrest progressive collapse of tall building. Journal of Engineering Mechanics, 130(10), 1177-1187.
Note: All webpages cited here have been downloaded in June of 2008