SHSU Students Shine at Forensic Science Conference

Paige Hinners poses with her research on an impaired driving case.
Paige Hinners poses with her research on an impaired driving case.

Graduate students from the Department of Forensic Science presented a wide array of research papers on toxicology, forensic anthropology, entomology and DNA at the discipline’s leading national conference in Washington, D.C.

Students from the Master of Science in Forensic Science program attended the American Academy of Forensic Science Annual Conference in February, which was attended by more than 4,000 professionals in the field. They presented posters on lab testing for bath salts, the extraction of alprazolam from urine samples, an impaired driving case involving phenazepan, the use of pollen DNA from pine trees to determine location in forensic cases, the molecular analysis of maggot masses in human decomposition to identify insect species, and the use of color changes during human decomposition to help to identify post mortem intervals.

“The Academy meeting is a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase our students and their research,” said Dr. Sarah Kerrigan, Professor and Chair of the Forensic Science Department.

Microscopic pollen.Cassandra Campelli’s poster, “Using Pinus STR profiling to discriminate pollen sources at the regional level: A potential tool for forensic investigation,” examined the possible use of pine pollen to help pinpoint location in criminal cases, such as linking a suspect to where a body was dumped. The research was conducted with Drs. Christopher Randle, Craig Echt, Bruce Budowle, and David A. Gangitano as well as former graduate Jennifer Sycalik.

Sarah Sims presented “A proposed means for the detection and quantification of bath salts from blood,” which explored current lab techniques that can be used to detect components in a new class of designer drugs. The study was conducted at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science in Dallas during her summer internship. The research was conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Todd and Chris Heartsill.

The work of former graduate Kaitlyn Schorr, “Monolithic substrate assisted micro liquid-liquid extraction of Alprazolam from urine sample,” was presented by Dr. Jorn C.C. Yu. The poster explored a new technique that could be used for faster lab analysis to extract an anti-depressant drug from biological samples.

Photo of an alleged drunken driver being tested being given sobriety test by police.Paige Hinners’ poster, “Phenazepan and driving impairment: A case report” examined an impaired driving case where a driver involved in an accident showed significant impairment but had negative toxicology tests for standard drugs and alcohol. A comprehensive drug screen was done at the former Sam Houston State University Regional Crime Lab, which found significant levels of phenazepan, a drug used in Russia that is becoming more popular in the U.S because it is ten times more potent than diazepam. The study was conducted with Dr. Kerrigan and forensic toxicologist Monica Brady Mellon.

Sarah Bahlmann reported on “A molecular approach: Species composition of the maggot mass in human cadavers in the Pinewoods ecosystem of southeast Texas,” a study done with Drs. Gangitano and Sibyl Bucheli as well as former graduate Ashleigh Faris. The study used a DNA sequencing approach to determine the species’ composition of the maggot mass during human decomposition.

Butterfly on a skullFinally, undergraduate student Joe Trevino from the Department of Chemistry presented “Quantification of color changes in human decomposition using image processing software,” a study to clarify the changes in body color during the different stages of human decomposition. The stages of decomposition help to determine post mortem intervals.

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