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Sixty seconds with a Scientist…

Dr Rachel Bolton-King
Lecturer in Forensic Investigation

Rachel joined Staffordshire University in October 2011 as a Lecturer in Forensic Investigation. Her specialist field is Firearms Investigation. After graduating from Nottingham Trent University in 2008, with a high First-Class Honours degree in Forensic Science, she began studying for a PhD in Forensic Firearms Identification and Imaging. This resulted in her establishing a novel way of identifying a gun’s manufacturer using characteristic features that are transferred to a bullet. She was awarded her PhD in July 2012.

What attracted you to Forensic Science?

All I ever wanted to do was enter the world of Forensic Science. Even as a young child I was fascinated by the different methods that were used to solve crime. By the age of 11, I knew that a future in this field was for me. I started looking into different aspects of policing and evidence analysis, ensuring that sciences were key options at A Level.

How did you get into firearms identification?

During the final year of my Forensic Science degree, I specialised in Firearms and Ballistics: a study of firing mechanisms, the physics relating to trajectory of fire and the chemistry associated with propellants in ammunition. I was totally enthralled – I had discovered my true passion! Thoroughly loving the subject, I then began a PhD in Firearms Identification and Imaging, investigating firearm barrels, which generate unique markings on a bullet.

What is it that you teach?

At Staffordshire University I teach Analytical Chemistry and Forensic Science to first-year undergraduates. Analytical Chemistry involves the study of the individual chemical components in a given sample. This could mean looking at the composition of a particular sample of ink to establish its origin or even confirming whether an unknown substance is a prohibited drug. I also teach at postgraduate level and teach bespoke short courses, focusing on forensic firearms identification, ballistics and crime scene reconstruction.

How do you bring teaching to life?

I always try to make teaching as engaging as possible, taking props into lectures and arranging lots of practical activities. I’ll bring in evidence samples and courtroom aids. We’ll carry out crime scene roll-plays, with students acting as victims, perpetrators, passers by and witnesses - and we’ll look at how crime scenes need to be preserved to protect valuable evidence. To help students become used to presenting evidence, we also attend real court cases and hold mock trials.

Does your work take you out of the University?

Yes. Through my research and teaching, I have established close links with the firearms units at Staffordshire Police and Nottinghamshire Police. I also have good relationships with several firearms manufacturers and forensic providers. My relationship with such organisations gives students the opportunity to talk to and learn from firearms specialists and practitioners. It is also a good way for students to meet with potential employers.

What is the focus of your research?

I am continuing investigations into Firearms Identification and Imaging, following on from my PhD. It’s such a vast, unexplored area. Using techniques such as Principal Component Analysis, I hope to assist in the creation of a database that will help enforcement agencies to more confidently establish the manufacturers of firearms used in crime. I am also looking at establishing x-ray-based non-destructive ways of examining old, corroded firearms; methods that will help determine whether a firearm is unloaded before it is examined.

What part of your work is the most rewarding?

I love teaching and inspiring the next generation of police and forensic scientists. In terms of research, I plan to continue my work in helping develop new ways to identify firearms and, in doing so, hope to establish a global network of contacts in firearms investigation.

And finally, why should I study Forensic Science at Staffordshire University?

The teaching team at Staffordshire University is highly dedicated, approachable and knowledgeable. We have experts across all areas of Forensic Science. With a large, experienced team, we are also able to spend time working with outside agencies, researching and developing new methods and techniques. This not only gives students direct access to cutting-edge technology, but also provides important links to employers.

Studying Forensic Science equips you with valuable transferrable skills and can provide a pathway into a wide range of other careers. These include roles in the police, various analytical environments and teaching. A Forensic Science degree is also a suitable stepping-stone towards a career in medicine.