Teachers Investigate "Bugs" at STAFS Trainings

Teacher examines key features to identify insect.
Teacher examines key features to identify insect.

The Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility (STAFS) debuted two new classes -- forensic entomology and digital forensics -- for high school criminal justice or forensic science instructors this summer.

“When high school teachers take these hands-on courses they acquire knowledge from the subject matter experts as well as learn some of the “inside secrets” of the discipline,” said Dr. Joan Bytheway, Director of STAFS. “They also gain a personal experience that they can share with their students through discussion and photographs. For the university, the high school teachers gain an understanding of what Sam Houston State University can offer their students as their students decide on undergraduate programs.”

Participants jokingly don tin hats to ward off computer bugs.
Participants jokingly don tin hats to ward off computer bugs.
For several years, STAFS has offered ongoing training sessions to enhance learning opportunities at the high school level. The classes, taught by faculty or professionals in the field, provide curriculum and hand-on experiments that teachers can use in their classrooms. In addition to the new classes, STAFS also offered Advanced Crime Scene Investigations, a popular course which gives teachers a primer on forensic anthropology as well as practical experience in processing crime scenes, especially those involving human remains.

Insects captured at STAFS.
Insects captured at STAFS.
The latest classes were added at the request of past participants in the program.

Forensic Entomology is the study of insects or other arthropods in criminal matters, particularly in death investigations. The insects can be used to determine the time of death of victims and provide other important clues in the investigation.

The three-day class, taught by Dr. Sibyl Bucheli of the Department of Biological Sciences, provided the foundations of insect biology as well as the impact the diverse species of flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, bees, wasps and ants have on daily live in the world.

Microscopes enhance tiny details on insect species.
Microscopes enhance tiny details on insect species.
“Insects are the most diverse lineage of animals on the planet,” Bucheli said. “They are only rivaled by bacteria. They are abundant, with 175,000 insects for every human. They can destroy food, housing or body tissue and provide painful stings or transient diseases. But they also produce useful products, like silk and honey; can be used for biological control; are used in research; can be trained to detect bombs (honey bees); provide food for animals; pollinate plants; and are used in medicines. Forensically, they can help to solve crimes.”

Teachers use nets to capture insects at STAFS.
Teachers used nets, jars, traps, plates and spoons to collect a wide variety of insects.
Dr. Bucheli emphasized how insects are used in forensic investigations and can help determine post mortem intervals (time since death) through identification of species, temperature of maggot masses and life cycles processes. In addition to studying insects in the classroom and laboratory, the class visited STAFS, one of only six willed body donation facilities in the country for the study of forensic anthropology, where they collected, identified and analyzed species found near human remains.

A teacher's insect collection from class.
A teacher's insect collection from class.
Teachers left the class with their own collection of significant forensic insects as well as a guide on identifying different species.

STAFS also sponsored a two-day course on Digital Forensics, which is the analysis of digital devices to find and recover deleted evidence; uncover hidden files or data; decrypt encrypted files; discover web browsing history; examine Skype logs, chat logs, Facebook and other social media; explore network activities; and reconstruct event timelines. Digital devices include computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, smart phones, Bluetooth, the internet, MP3 players, game consoles, GPS navigation units or watches, or other “smart” devices.

Instructor Andy Bennett (r) shows participants how to unlock information from the computer.
Instructor Andy Bennett (r) shows participants how to unlock information from the computer.
“Any case you are working has a cyber-component, especially financial crimes,” said Andy Bennett, Director of the Center of Excellence in Digital Forensic at Sam Houston State University. “Even a common alley mugging for cash probably leaves a digital trail on cell phone records and video footage. Cyber skills are not just cool, they are required.”

Teachers experiment with Photoshop to make -- and identify -- altered photos.
Teachers experiment with Photoshop to make -- and identify -- altered photos.
Participants learned how to clone the information on electronic devices and use forensic software programs, such as FTK, Encase and Sleuthkit, to find evidence. Eric Deering, an analyst at the Center, showed teachers how to perform file recoveries and how to best use social media in criminal investigations. Bennett also demonstrated how Photoshop can be used to falsify or clarify photographs in cases.
The digital forensic class outside LEMIT.
The digital forensics class outside LEMIT.
There is a growing need for digital forensic experts in the workplace, including in government, law enforcement, military, private companies and even for individuals. Among one of the biggest threats to the nation’s critical infrastructure and industry is the possibility of a cyber attack on equipment using Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems, which allow remote control of systems and equipment using digital signals over communication channels. Malicious attacks against these systems can have disastrous results, bringing business to a standstill and potentially impacting and endangering millions of lives.

For more information on future STAFS classes for law enforcement or secondary school teachers, visit http://www.shsu.edu/~stafs/training.html.

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