Module details for Forensic Material Investigation


Examines the investigation, evaluation & interpretation of evidence from fires & explosions. It examines causes of fire, thermodynamics of combustion, sample collection & packaging, chemical tests & analytical techniques for fire debris analysis. It explores the nature of explosives & explosions, blast wave propagation, damage caused & the forensic evidence as well as firearms evidence and metallurgical failures, and considers the approaches from the crime scene to court presentation and interpretation.


The aims of this Module are to enable the student to: (i) examine and characterise the origin of fire/explosion debris; (ii) evaluate techniques for distinguishing residues, (iii) identify the source and subsequent history of samples, (iv) understand the principles of kinetics/dynamics, energetics, phase transfer, and (v) the interpretation and understanding of materials and failures

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  Apply the principles of kinetics and thermodynamics to fires and explosions

2.  Interpret findings of fire investigations in relation to fire dynamics

3.  Characterise explosives and fire debris

4.  Describe and evaluate forensic firearm and ballistic examinations

5.  Evaluate the mechanisms of material failures.

6.  Critically interpret experimental observations and relate them to theory and practice

Indicative Content

1 Fire and Explosion Dynamics

Heat transfer mechanisms, ignition and spread of flame, spontaneous and smouldering combustion, pre-and post-flash-over fires, smoke movement, buoyancy, fuel load.

2 Thermochemistry of Fuels and Explosives

Combustion and energy release, oxygen balance and the Kistiakowsky−Wilson rules, Hess's law, heat and temperature of explosion, the concept of heat capacity.

3 Explosion and Fire Debris analysis

Explosives classification, factors affecting detonation. Debris position, identification of mechanical, thermal history and origin. Use of chemical tests to identify potential explosive residues and accelerants. Fire cause diagnosis, identification of origin of fire and source of ignition.

4 Properties of Physical Evidence Materials

Microstructure and micro properties of metals and alloys, fracture fatigue and creep. Corrosion mechanisms. Metallurgical examination of failures.

5 Interpretation of results

Introduction to evidence interpretation and the reporting of physical evidence cases.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Teaching and Learning Method Hours
Lecture 24
Tutorial/Seminar 6
Practical Activity 18
Assessment 52
Independent 100
Total 200

Guidance notes

SCQF Level - The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework provides an indication of the complexity of award qualifications and associated learning and operates on an ascending numeric scale from Levels 1-12 with SCQF Level 10 equating to a Scottish undergraduate Honours degree.

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2021/22 , and may be subject to change for future years.