Forensic Science and Its Quest

SUNY Oswego Professor Shokouh Haddadi of the chemistry department gave an in depth presentation of what it takes to collect samples within scenes of crime, arson, and from people. Formally trained in the field of chemistry, Dr. Haddadi fell into the realm of forensic chemistry, by commencing research on how to better collect samples for analysis with forensic investigations. Forensic science is an umbrella term because it involves many sciences beyond chemistry like physics, and biology. Dr. Haddadi’s presentation began by explaining that science and the law do not necessarily get along. “Science exists to uncover a deeper understanding of the universe, while the courts exist to settle disputes between individuals and the state (criminal law) or among individuals or entities (civil law).” From then she described what actually is “Forensic Chemistry”. Mentioning above anything else that it’s very analytical and statistics-driven. Statistics help chemists like Dr. Haddadi give a clearer understanding to why any of these situations occur.

Arson

The law turns to scientists to help determine causes for situations including arson. One key factor Dr. Haddadi discussed is how time sensitive it is to collect samples from an arson scene. One of the primary factors is that if there were any chemicals involved within the fire. Figuring out whether if it was gasoline, or kerosene used to start this fire is detrimental to find out a cause for one of these disastrous events. The issue is that although the compounds in these liquids start fires, like any liquid it evaporates from heat. One method of collection is putting a sample from the scene and encasing it in a metal canister with a carbon strip. They will heat the can enough for the substance to absorb onto the strip. Afterward, they will wash the strip in a solvent to wash away the substance off the strip, and take the sample to a gas chromatograph/ mass spectrometer machine. Finally, the machine will list the results on the computer and it will show how many compounds that are within the combustible liquid used to start the fire.

Toxicology

Throughout the lecture, Dr. Haddadi discussed three projects that she had previously conducted with her research team. The second project mentioned by Dr. Haddadi studied toxicology and developing an extraction method to extract drugs from the body. When considering the connection between science and the law, toxicology is a very useful scientific tool used by the law. Toxicology requires quantitative analysis, measuring and analyzing potential toxins, intoxicating or banned substances, and prescription medication present in a person’s body. The most important role of toxicology in law enforcement is that toxicology reports will determine if alcohol was a factor in a crash. Dr. Haddadi’s project involved drugging and the crime of giving drugs to an unsuspecting victim. Drugging can be very harmful to someone, and in some cases fatal. Dr. Haddadi and her team are aiming to develop a method of extraction that will extract an unwanted substance from a person’s body if they are drugged. The application of toxicology in law enforcement is very important to uncovering a deeper understanding of how to extract substances from unsuspecting victims of drugging.  

The Quest

The challenge that is being tried is to facilitating how to effectively communicate science to the masses using different outlets of media. For starters, a perfect way to bridge science and communication is by hosting a simple lecture. Dr. Haddai was excellent in describing everything in brief detail and in a rhetoric that is easy for audience members to understand who are not within the discipline of science. Recently, SUNY Oswego hosted their annual symposium dedicated to showcasing scholarly and creative projects completed by students, faculty, and staff on campus. We were fortunate enough to ask some science majors on their thoughts of communicating science in media. Some say that it can be difficult to explain to the general public the research they did and even more difficult to present the results, due to advance terminology that to an outsider might sound confusing. They say they enjoy events like Quest because not only are they teaching viewers about their research, but learning themselves on how to speak cohesively in a matter that anyone can understand. They think these communicative skills gained by presenting during Quest will help them further in their field.

-With all that in mind, we would like to thank Dr. Hadaddi for giving such a wonderful presentation and taking the time to be interviewed. As well as some of the science majors who participated not only in Quest but answering our questions
-Nick Krasoski and Troy Seymour

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