UAB’s new and innovative undergraduate forensic chemistry program is one of only a handful of programs in the country offering in-depth forensics training. Students take courses in analytical chemistry, biochemistry and justice science and fulfill unique requirements such as public speaking, photography and a 10-week internship.

Another course Chemistry Department Chair David Graves, Ph.D., is squeezing into the already expansive curriculum is photography. It is very useful for a forensic scientist to know the workings of a camera, how digital photographs can be manipulated and how to extract information from film and photos, he says.

“This actually is the most robust chemistry program we have,” says Graves.

“UAB’s degrees have 120-credit-hour limits. We had to get an exception to get everything in that we needed, and still there are a few additional classes that we encourage students to take. The students are told up front that it’s the toughest degree program we have, and they still jump on it.”

To build the new program, Graves, who was the director of the University of Mississippi’s forensic chemistry program before he came to UAB in 2003, drew from his 20 years of experience in teaching forensic science and also talked closely with directors in the Alabama State Crime Lab.

“We have a very good relationship with the state crime lab,” he says. “Their input was extremely important to us in developing the appropriate curriculum.”

Part of the reason the program is 10 hours over the usual limit is because it has to meet the standards of two different accreditation bodies: the American Chemistry Society and the American Association of Forensic Science, both of which are essential badges of recognition for any student starting a career in the field. Courses outside the chemistry department are also required, including toxicology and physics.

Another innovative aspect of UAB’s program is the required 10-week internship in a local, state, or federal crime lab at the end of the junior year. “We’ve had two of our students go to the FBI laboratory in Quantico,” says Graves. “That is really outstanding. One actually went this past year and now is joining the FBI.”