Students present criminalistics work at conference

February 3, 2014

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PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Six students and two faculty from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Chemistry Department recently attended and presented research at the 42nd annual meeting of the Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists in Dayton, Ohio.  Majors in the department’s criminalistics emphasis in chemistry continued a long tradition of active participation in this conference under the mentoring of Dr. Charles Cornett and Dr. Joseph Wu. Wu’s work with the Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement was instrumental in securing funding for student travel to Dayton to present the various projects involving his and Cornett’s students and crime laboratory partners in Wisconsin and Florida.

In addition to presenting their research on error rates in measuring ignitable liquids and creating color tests for law enforcement to determine new synthetic street drugs, students received the opportunity to explore many areas through poster exhibitions, breakaway sessions and professional presentations.  

Among those were how to set up a lab to conduct autopsies in mass disaster emergencies, and how the composition of caffeine will break down bleach, which was useful in solving a poisoning case.  

Liisa Erita, a senior chemistry major with a criminalistics emphasis, from Crystal Lake, Ill., attended the conference for the second time, and saw value in the networking opportunities she received.

“There was quite possibly at least one representative from every crime laboratory in the Midwest who attended this conference,” said Erita.  “I used the opportunity to network with the professionals that work at different labs I wish to work at after graduation.  Through networking, you learn how professionals interact outside of work, and they are very encouraging of students who are doing research or who wish to explore their career options.”

“Something I learned from attending the conference is that everything needs to be investigated, even if it doesn’t seem important, because it could turn out to be one of the most important parts of a case,” said Jen Yoder, a junior chemistry major with an emphasis in criminalistics from Sun Prairie, Wis.

This was Yoder’s first time attending the conference, giving her a chance to explore exhibits and network with professionals.  “In this field you have to keep being curious,” she said.  “You have to be constantly curious and wanting to learn more.”

UW-Platteville was one of six universities in the Midwest with students presenting their research at this conference of more than 250 forensic scientists.  The conference served the dual purpose of allowing students to network with professionals as well as present and ask questions about their undergraduate research projects. Wu and Cornett currently advise 14 undergraduate students working on research whose topics include ignitable liquid analysis, error assessment, polymer fingerprint lifting coatings, presumptive drug tests for narcotics, electrochemical sensors and more.

“Undergraduate research adds value to a student’s education because many employers are looking for research experience,” said Wu.

UW-Platteville is the only university within the UW System to offer a criminalistics emphasis for a chemistry degree. The UW-Platteville Chemistry Department is home to over 140 chemistry majors, and the criminalistics emphasis has partnered with various organizations and crime labs including the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory-Milwaukee and the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory-Madison to conduct collaborative research.  Previous recent research partners include the Florida Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Iowa Departments of Criminal Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Northern Illinois Regional Police Crime Laboratory.

“With a partnership with one of these organizations, research collaboration may or may not include an internship for the student,” said Dr. Cornett. “We’ve also been in a position to receive used equipment from these labs, and have also published research papers with them. The MAFS conference is one of the major ways for us as a department to interface and either build or begin relationships with these partners to benefit our students.”

Contact: Dr. Joseph Wu, chemistry and engineering physics, (608) 342-6018, wut@uwplatt.edu; Dr. Charles Cornett, chemistry and engineering physics, (608) 342-1658, cornettc@uwplatt.edu

Written By: Angela O’Brien, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1194, obrienan@uwplatt.edu

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