Forensic Science News: 2015-16

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May 6, 2016 - Forensic Science Celebrates May Graduates

UNL Forensic Science - 2016 May graduatesOn Friday, May 6th the Departments of Entomology and Applied Science invited Forensic Science graduates and their families to participate in the joint graduation reception held prior to the CASNR Salute to Graduates reception.

The following Forensic Science students were honored (in order left to right): Briana Gaston, Rachel McCroskey, and Melanie Blum.  Other graduating seniors (not pictured) include: Emma Blank, Ashley Fejfar, Justine La Violette, and Lianna Walker.

Due to the rigor of the program, graduating with a degree in Forensic Science at the University of Nebraska is quite an achievement and these students deserve congratulations!

April 14, 2016 - Nebraska Army National Guard Discuss the Civil Support Team

Forensic Science UNL - National Guard

As part of the FORS 200 - Forensic Seminar guest lecture series, Captains Oliver Berglund and Christina Krcilek of the Nebraska Army National Guard (72nd Civil Support Team) came to speak to the students about their work with the Civil Support Team (CST).  This team frequently works with police, fire departments, and the FBI and respond to natural and man-made disasters.  They are an emergency response unit with 22 subject matter experts that have teams across the country that can be deployed on request.

Every member of the Civil Support Team responds to an emergency, but most usually work within one of several specialty sections including: Command, Operations, Admin/Log, Communications, Survey, and Medical.  These teams have been deployed all over the United States for a variety of incidents.  Units conduct exercises with local responders about once a week and are usually deployed for about a week out of every month. Members are committed to the team for at least 3 years.

72nd Civil Support Team

April 13, 2016 - Forensic Science Club Selected for Student Impact Award

On Wednesday, April 13th 2016, UNL’s Student Involvement Office hosted a ceremony for the Student Impact Awards and selected the Forensic Science Club as a finalist for the Outstanding Student Organization Award. 

With growing numbers, invited speakers, and a new philanthropy for the prevention of Human Trafficking, the Forensic Science Club is expanding its scope and gaining notoriety across UNL’s campus.  For more information, or to join, contact the club at: unlforsciclub@gmail.com

April 13, 2016 - Forensic Science Club Hosts 4th Annual Spatterganza

Forensic Science UNL - Spatterganza

UNL’s Forensic Science Club, a Registered Student Organization affiliated with the Forensic Science Degree Program, held its 4th Annual Spatterganza fundraiser on Wednesday, April 13th.  Every year, the club provides individuals the opportunity to buy a t-shirt and then find creative ways to get imitation-blood spatter on it. 

The proceedings, supervised by faculty member and resident blood-spatter expert Sgt. Larry Barksdale, took place in one of the forensic science program’s lab facilities.  The idea is for students to provide an educated explanation for the particular patterns displayed on their eye-catching shirts.  Patterns are designed to imitate common blood-spatter patterns like expirated, cast-off, drip, and splash, at various velocities.

Accompanying the festivities was a bake sale where club members sold homemade sweets.  All proceeds from the baked goods and t-shirt sales go to support Bound No More, an Omaha organization dedicated to promoting awareness of human trafficking.

April 10, 2016 - Barksdale Honored at CASNR Banquet

Forensic Science UNL - Larry Barksdale

Sgt. Larry Barksdale, Assistant Professor of Practice and Crime Scene Investigation Option Coordinator for the UNL Forensic Science Program, was presented the Outstanding Teaching Award at the CASNR Week Banquet on Sunday, April 10th, 2016.  Barksdale has made significant contributions to the education of students and has been, and continues to be, an integral part of the program. 

Barksdale teaches several courses for the Forensic Science Program including: Introduction to Forensic Science Lab, Comparative Analysis in Forensic Science, Crime Scene Investigation, Forensic Science Seminar, Current Issues in Forensic Science, Advanced Forensic Photography, Crime Scene Management, and Bloodstains as Evidence.  Congratulations Larry!

April 1, 2016 - Students Hear From the State Patrol Crime Lab

As part of the FORS 200 - Forensic Seminar guest lecture series, Jeff Bracht, a Forensic Scientist/DNA Analyst, talked about the work that goes on in the Nebraska State Patrol Crime Lab.  Serving any law enforcement agency in the state of Nebraska, the State Patrol Crime Lab is accredited and has with about 22 employees including managers and analysts.  There are several disciplines represented at the lab including: serology (identifying biological material), DNA, toxicology, trace evidence, controlled substances, latent prints, and firearms/tool marks.

With a new space, the crime lab has tripled the size of their facility, required for storing their extensive analysis instrumentation and firearms facility.  According to Bracht, analyses are not done quickly, and can take up to several months or even years.  A typical day for an analyst can include casework, testimonies, review, research, continuing education, presentations/workshops, and lab and instrument maintenance.  He recommends that those interested in becoming a forensic scientist need: an education, internship experience, lab experience, knowledge of a subject matter, visual acuity, and pattern recognition skills.

State Patrol Crime Lab

March 16, 2016 - The FBI Comes to UNL

Forensic Science UNL - Michele Stevenson

As part of the FORS 200 - Forensic Seminar guest lecture series, Michele Stevenson, a Special Agent with the FBI Omaha Division, shared information about careers in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Although her degree is in speech communication, she indicated that math and science-focused majors are more highly sought after by the FBI.

Stevenson is the Applicant Coordinator and Recruiter for the Omaha Division, and highlighted several opportunities for students and graduates including paid and unpaid internships, careers as professional staff and as special agents. She indicated particular areas of interest for forensically-minded graduates: the lab in Quantico which houses 750 employees doing a range of 50 different jobs, and the Evidence Response Team, an ancillary duty that would be a good fit for forensic science graduates. 

Stevenson gave the students tips on the application process and noted that applicants should be aware of the following disqualifiers: felony convictions, lying on the polygraph, a history of bad financial decisions, consumption of marijuana in the past 3 years and other illegal drugs in the past 10 years, inappropriate posts on social media, and illegal downloading. She indicated two websites for more information about federal jobs: https://www.usajobs.gov/ and https://www.fbijobs.gov/.

March 9, 2016 - Davidsaver Promotes Emergency Management

Forensic Science UNL - Jim Davidsaver

As part of the FORS 200 - Forensic Seminar guest lecture series, Jim Davidsaver, Director of Lincoln-Lancaster County Emergency Management, discussed his work in emergency management.  Davidsaver, a 28-year veteran of the Lincoln Police Department with 10 years as a crime scene technician, now teaches UNL’s Survey of Criminal Justice in addition to his other duties.

Davidsaver provided a brief history on the background of Emergency Management in the USA and reported that their mission areas are: prevention, protection, and mitigation followed by response and recovery.  He works with/under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Emergency Support Functions (ESF) that fall under their purview include: transportation, communications, public works and engineering, fire-fighting, emergency management, mass care, emergency assistance, housing and human services, public health and medical services, and search and rescue, among others.

There are several levels of emergency activation with level 3 being the lowest (severe weather watches) and level 1 being the highest (worst case scenarios). Their unit has vehicles that serve as mobile command posts, portable hospitals, for response/triage, rehabilitation, decontamination, and light towers.

Davidsaver’s advice for being prepared in an emergency? Be aware, not paranoid. Have a plan of action. Ask yourself, do you have what you need to take care of yourself for 3 days? During severe weather season, have alerts turned on. Follow them on Twitter @LancasterCoEMA   More…

March 2, 2016 - Correctional Services Visits Forensic Science

Forensic Science UNL - Corrections

As part of the FORS 200 - Forensic Seminar guest lecture series, three representatives from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, came to discuss the work they do in Nebraska’s 10 correctional facilities.  Since “prisons are like little cities”, there are crimes committed and investigations happening all the time.  Most common issues include fights, assaults, contraband, and sexual assaults.  Correctional investigators work with many different agencies when conducting their investigations.  Frequent items being smuggled in include tobacco and cell phones.

To combat these crimes, databases are used to track anything and everything about an inmate.  Mail is monitored and phone calls are tracked.  Inmates are subject to search at any time and investigators also spend a lot of time doing “open-sourced research”, or looking at public social media accounts on the internet.  In addition, inmate interviews are common aspects of an investigation.  Investigators are provided training in interviewing to look at body language to gauge an inmate’s deception, use the correct demeanor to produce the most information, and recognize the potential danger to inmates sharing information.

For those interested in a position, there are paid internships, they are always hiring, and are currently understaffed. More…

Feb. 24, 2016 - State Patrol Discusses Crash Scene Reconstruction with Students

Forensic Science UNL - Pedram Nabegh

As part of the FORS 200 - Forensic Seminar guest lecture series, Nebraska State Trooper Pedram Nabegh, a crash scene reconstructionist, came to discuss crash scene reconstruction and present a case study of a scene.  Nabegh indicated that the job involves many physical science concepts that are used to determine the “how” a crash happened, not necessarily the “why”.  He works mostly when there has been either a fatality, serious bodily injury, commercial motor vehicle collisions, or when another agency requests his assistance.

Nabegh has a masters degree in forensic science from Nebraska Wesleyan University and has been with the State Patrol since 2005.  He noted that professionals in this area need to be forensically trained to find facts and use them to reduce future crashes.  Elements that are involved in reconstruction can be: preparation, continual training, response, evidence examination, case investigation, research, reconstruction, report preparation, peer reviews, report submission, and meeting to review findings.

Nabegh brought equipment often used to reconstruct scenes including a Total Station unit used for 3D scanning.  He presented a case study that took him 5 months to complete and illustrated how the reconstruction was done from beginning to end.  More…

Feb. 10, 2016 - Forensic Science Students Find Futures in the U.S. Army

Forensic Science UNL - USArmy

As part of the FORS 200 - Forensic Seminar guest lecture series, representatives from the U.S. Army have spoken to Forensic Science Students about career opportunities in the Army.  Two current students who viewed the presentation last year and have since enlisted in the army reserve, accompanied the representatives during this semester’s presentation: Emma Dubas (far left) and Aaron Gilbert (center left).

Gilbert, a Sophomore forensic science major, claimed that he enlisted in part because there are many opportunities to go overseas, he gets help with state college tuition costs, and his training has been split up so it does not interfere with his studies.  Dubas, a junior forensic science major indicated that she hopes to pursue a forensic-related lab job and that her 52-week training period will be paid for and with her education and training, she will be starting her career with an edge.

In related news... a program for the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), developed in the last 7 months, is providing a new route for individuals to become a highly trained federal agent.  CID agents learn valuable investigative skills, solve complex crimes and go through various training courses to become a special agent.  To become a CID agent, individuals need to join the army, be a U.S. citizen, age 21, and have a bachelor’s degree in a criminal or scientific setting, making forensic science an ideal degree program for those interested. More…

Feb. 3, 2016 - Arson Investigator Visits with Forensic Science Students

Forensic Science UNL - Don Gross

As part of the FORS 200 - Forensic Seminar guest lecture series, Donald Gross, Fire Investigator/Explosive Technician with the city of Lincoln Bureau of Fire Prevention, gave a presentation about his work in fire code enforcement, fire investigation, bomb squad and public fire education.

Gross indicated that “Fire is a science” and explained how investigators study the predictable patterns and behavior of fire based on environmental conditions.  They use the scientific method during an investigation and utilize about 85% information and 15% evidence to figure out what or who started the fire, how the fire was started, and why.

According to Gross, finger print evidence can survive a fire and most aspects of traditional forensic evidence can be applied to fire investigations.  To pursue a career as a fire investigator, you need a background in science, math, statistics, mechanics, structural, and fire science. More…

Dec. 18, 2015 - Forensic Science Honors its December Graduates

Forensic Science UNL - Graduates

On Friday, December 18th the Departments of Entomology and Applied Science invited Forensic Science graduates and their families to participate in the joint graduation reception held prior to the CASNR Salute to Graduates reception.

The following students graduated from the Forensic Science Program: Alexander Anderson, Tori Bohlen, Adam Dolezal, Taylor Ehrman, Taylor Friemel, Bonnie Kurtenbach, Benjamin Roos, and Cierra Tooley (featured on the left with Asst. Professor of Practice Larry Barksdale, Director Tiffany Heng-Moss, and Advisor Ben Heinisch).

Due to the rigor of the program, graduating with a degree in Forensic Science at the University of Nebraska is quite an achievement and these students deserve congratulations!

Dec. 16, 2015 - Forensic Science Graduate Featured in Local News

Forensic Science UNL - Kate Schwenke

Kate Schwenke, a graduate of the UNL Forensic Science Program in December, 2014 has just finished her training in the Police Academy and will join the force of the Lincoln Police Department.  Details are noted in the Lincoln Journal Star article here.

September, 2015 - Forensic Class' Term Project Gets Published

Forensic Science UNL - Mummy

The September issue of the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine features an article by UNL students and faculty associated with the Forensic Science Program (Johnica Morrow, and Karl Reinhard in addition to Leon Higley, Diesel Baldwin and Dario Piombino-Mascali).  The topic of this article "Curatorial implications of Ophyra capenis (Order Diptera, Family Muscidae) puparia recovered from the body of the Blessed Antonio Patrizi, Montaciano, Italy (Middle Ages)" was one of the main discussion topics for the Forensic Taphonomy class during this project. 

The researchers found evidence of insects on the mummified remains of an individual and indicated their presence was related to the decomposition of the organic matter and not the result of an infestation from more recent years.  This article illustrates how collection and identification of insects related to human remains allows scientists to distinguish between historical decomposition and curatorial issues.

Dr. Reinhard teaches FORS 300 – Forensic Taphonomy (the study of decomposition) and gave the students in that class a closer look at the important functions of forensic scientists in the fields of entomology and taphonomy.

Summer, 2015 - Forensic Science Grad and Faculty Contribute Research to IAI

Forensic Science UNL - Kate Scwenke

Kate Schwenke, a recent graduate of UNL’s Forensic Science Program, along with faculty members Sgt. Larry Barksdale and Dr. Ashley Hall, published their research on the International Association for Identification (IAI) website.  Their study, “A Protocol for Discovery of Latent Bloodstains on Dark and Patterned Clothing” was sponsored in part by a scholarship awarded to Schwenke through the IAI Johnson-White Memorial Fund.

The project highlights best practices for discovering and identifying bloodstains on clothing where blood may not be visible to the naked eye.  It is important for investigators to be able to identify bloodstains on clothing without damaging any DNA evidence.  Different light sources and chemicals were used to determine the most effective combination of detection procedures.

After graduating, Schwenke worked as a DNA analyst at GeneSeek/Neogen and is now starting a career in law enforcement with the Lincoln Police Department.  More…

Summer, 2015 - Forensic Science Student Experiences Unique UCARE Project

Forensic Science UNL - Samantha Hayek

Over the past summer Samantha Hayek, a forensic science major and Ambassador for the Forensic Science Program here at UNL had an exciting opportunity to be involved in some interesting research.  Samantha participated in a UCARE project with forensic science professor Dr. Karl Reinhard and anthropology assistant professor Dr. Carrie Heitman where they examined pollen from Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. 

Her work sought to use maize pollen found in the canyon to identify whether Ancient Pueblos grew maize locally or imported it into the canyon.  They compared the pollen samples to a similar site in the Salmon Ruins and concluded that most likely the maize was grown locally.

 Samantha used techniques and knowledge she gained from her forensic science pollen analysis class and was able to apply all the steps of a research project including collecting, compiling and analyzing data to produce a final project/poster.  More…

May, 2015 - Forensic Science Project Gets Attention from Real Clear Science

Forensic Science UNL - Paulette Arguelles

The work of Paulette Arguelles, a 2012 Forensic Science Graduate from UNL, has been published in The Anatomical Record and is now highlighted on the Real Clear Science website.  The study, “Forensic Palynological Analysis of Intestinal Contents of a Korean Mummy” (Arguelles, Reinhard & Shin, 2015) was a project for the forensic science palynology course (pollen analysis), FORS 446 and focused on examining pollen spores in fossilized feces to determine what an individual ate before they expired.

It is exciting that research that begins in the undergraduate classroom continues to impact the larger field of forensic science and our undergraduate students are the foundation for creating new knowledge.

The Anatomical Record article

The Real Clear Science reference