Course Overview

Have you ever wondered if your favorite detective show is based on anything approaching real life practice.  Can the modern practice of forensic science really provide such fabulously detailed information about people and the results of their actions?  In this short course, we will explore several facets of modern forensic science and engage in some fun forensic laboratory experiments to try to understand how forensic science may really work.

All students who successfully complete the course will receive a Certificate of Completion and have the opportunity to request a Syracuse University noncredit transcript.

Course Objectives

  • To gain a deeper understanding of several topics in forensic science including forensic DNA, forensic anthropology, forensic medicine, and how science and the law work together.
  • Complete some forensic lab experiments including forensic anthropology, fingerprinting, and blood spatter pattern analysis.
  • Understand the difference between how forensic science is portrayed in movies and television and how it actually works in real life.
  • Explore the relationships between science and the law, and how science functions in the highly regulated environment of the courtroom.

Course Information

Course Prefix and Number: SCN 158

Format: On Campus (at Syracuse University)

Eligibility: Students must be of junior, or senior status – or a 2024 high school graduate who have completed HS Biology and Chemistry. 

Credit: Noncredit

Grading: Pass/Fail


  • Residential: $2,195
  • Commuter: $1,726

Program rates are subject to change and will be approved by the board of trustees. Discounts and scholarships are also available.

Program Information

Summer College – On Campus: 
Experience what college is really like: take a college-level course, live in a residence hall, have meals with friends in a dining hall, and participate in activities and events on campus.

Course Dates and Details

ProgramCourse DatesSynchronous Class Time (Eastern Time)Credit/NoncreditStatus
Summer College – On Campus1-Week Session II: Monday, July 22 –
Friday, July 26, 2024
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Class times subject to change.

Required Supplies

Students will need a laptop, safety glasses, and appropriate lab clothing.

Typical Day

Tentative Schedule

  • Students will spend about 90 min. in morning lectures that encourage conversation while engaging in a more formal consideration of several key topics in forensic science.
  • Students will spend about 3 hours each afternoon in the forensic laboratory.
  • Students will complete several hours of self-study of the key topics presented from the textbook and complete an online assessment of their understanding.  These assessments will be discussed the following day in lab.

Faculty Bios

James T. Spencer

Dr. James Spencer joined the faculty at Syracuse University after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in organometallic chemistry from Iowa State University, and his undergraduate studies at S.U.N.Y. College at Potsdam.  Prof. Spencer has received several honors for his research and teaching work including the “Distinguished Achievements in Boron Science” Award from the BUSA International Conference.  He is the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Distinguished Teaching Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he received the Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence, the highest award recognition for SU faculty and staff in recognition of outstanding achievement in teaching, scholarship and creative work. He also received the Excellence in Teaching Award from University College in 2009. He has been active in organizing a variety of scientific meetings for both the American Chemical Society and the BUSA International Conference, in addition to serving as co-chair for the 10th and 11th Foresight Conferences on Molecular Nanotechnology. Dr. Spencer has presented numerous invited lectures including at the IMEBORON X International Conference, the Gordon Research Conference in Inorganic Chemistry, and the International Symposium on Solid State Imaging and CVD. He has also served as a consultant for the Lockheed Martin Corporation, General Electric Corporation, the Merix Corporation, and International Business Machines, among others.

Dr. Spencer is the author of ~90 scientific papers and has presented over 200 lectures at regional, national and international venues.  Spencer’s research involves the study of solid-state, main group and organometallic chemistry and includes projects in solid state chemistry on boron-containing and nanostructural materials.  Current projects are focused upon the development of a new generation of sensors using chemically functionalized piezoelectric solid state devices.  These new materials will provide rapid, highly sensitive, exceptionally selective, and readily adaptable new sensors for key analytes with applications to medicine, forensic science and national security. 

Dr. Spencer founded the University’s Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute (FNSSI) where he currently serves as its Founding Executive Director. The Institute brings together work from many disciplines and provides a program of excellence, uniquely positioned to make significant contributions to combat crime and promote national security through research, teaching, and professional outreach: the nation’s first program that comprehensively focuses upon the breadth and depth scholarship in forensic and national security sciences and is establishing groundbreaking research based upon rigorous scientific investigation and technical ability. He has completed work on a new introductory textbook in Forensic Science (2021).  Dr. Spencer has also served as the Associate Dean for Science, Mathematics and Research in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences (2009-2014).

In addition to his scientific pursuits, Spencer also directs the national award-winning Syracuse University Brass Ensemble, having begun his studies at SUNY Potsdam in brass music. The Ensemble is composed of over forty professional-level musicians from Syracuse University, Upstate Medical University, and surrounding Upstate New York communities. The Ensemble, the Ensemble-in-Residence in the College of Arts and Sciences and based in Hendricks Chapel, is a year-round organization which presents some twenty performances each year.  These include a variety of recitals on the Syracuse University Campus and performances in and around the northeast and the Ensemble has won a number of prestigious national awards for their performances.