Forensic Physics and Ballistics

The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics performs dynamic reconstructions of crime scenarios involving firearms and those involving a sharp instrument or blunt force. Our work also includes investigating the level of danger when persons have objects thrown or shot at them or are beaten with objects, and the level of danger associated with "non-lethal" weapons and devices.

Close collaboration with the Department for Forensic Medicine and Imaging makes it possible to produce interdisciplinary assessments combining spatial, forensic, physical and clinical findings. The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics operates across Switzerland and abroad and often collaborates with various forensics services and institutes of forensic medicine based in other cantons.

Forensic physics is concerned with investigating the effects of blunt force on humans or forces produced by sharp instruments. Various procedures are used to investigate the phenomena encountered during practical forensics work:

  • The danger level when persons are beaten with objects or have them thrown at them can be investigated by measuring the energy involved during beating or throwing.
  • The level of danger (in mechanical terms) associated with jets of liquid such as pepper spray can be determined via pressure measurements and high-speed photography.
  • A drop tower makes it possible to reconstruct puncture and impact scenarios.
  • In collaboration with the mechanical workshop, a wide range of scenarios can be recreated in order to reconstruct a particular case.
  • The level of danger associated with blast incidents can be determined via blast pressure measurements.

Forensic ballistics can be divided into two main areas known as general ballistics (internal, external and terminal ballistics) and wound ballistics.
General ballistics is concerned with investigating the various phases when a shot is fired, from ignition to when the bullet hits something. Examples of such investigations are trajectory reconstructions for shots fired from distance and measurements of ricochet or penetration behavior for various bullet types. The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics uses the results of investigations to reconstruct the actions associated with particular firearms scenarios.
Wound ballistics is concerned with investigating the mechanisms involved in biological tissue injuries, and the Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics uses this approach when assessing unusual gunshot injuries with the help of ballistic simulants. Investigations are also performed to assess the level of danger associated with various equipment used by the police authorities.
The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics has specific devices for this purpose such as Doppler radar, velocity measurement equipment and high-speed cameras capable of measuring the velocity of a bullet in specific situations (direct hit, penetration, ricochet, etc.), as well as equipment for creating various simulants.
There may be some overlap between the two areas in certain cases with a view to investigating and reconstructing complex firearms scenarios. The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics works very closely with the Department for Forensic Medicine and Imaging in this regard and thereby serves as an interface between forensics, medicine and the relevant authorities. This allows us to generate 3D models in order to visualize the crime scene or the sequence of events involved and compare trajectories with the topography of the location.
The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics operates across Switzerland and abroad and takes orders for assessments in English, French, Italian and German. It does this in collaboration with specialists from other institutes and services. We also offer training for forensic specialists, forensic scientists and medical personnel in either terminal or wound ballistics, including the annual Swiss International Wound Ballistics Workshop.

Using 3D pictures produced by forensic imaging techniques, the Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics complements blood trace analyses by performing ballistic calculations designed to recreate the trajectories for drops of blood. These can also be combined with 3D reconstructions of firearms scenarios.