What we see on television is not always close to reality; however, sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. Shows like NCIS, CSI and Law and Order often tend to overdramatize what investigators do, but it seems that sometimes these shows are right on the money. Blood spatter analysis, crime scene reconstruction, tire track casting and the like were topics of discussion this Saturday April 25 at the 10th Annual Symposium of Undergraduate Research in Forensic Science at Keystone College.
The symposium, coordinated all ten years by Dr. Tammy S. Barette, began at 830am and ran throughout the afternoon until about 5pm. About 75-85 people attended lectures by visiting professionals in Forensics as well as lectures by Keystone Forensic students. Throughout the day attendees enjoyed refreshments and purchased chances for raffle baskets and a 50/50 drawing to help raise money for future events.
The purpose of the symposium, according to Dr. Barette, is “to give students the chance to showcase their research and present in a professional setting, but in a very comfortable environment,” as well as to “bring in professionals from around the country in various fields to allow that exposure for our students on campus.” In addition to college students, Barette said high school students from Valley View, Abington Heights and North Pocono attended as well as some students from the Penn State Worthington campus.
Amanda Chorba, an honors junior in Forensic Biology, presented her research regarding the Effectiveness of Personal Breathalyzers. Chorba, one of Dr. Barette’s students, also gave a presentation with junior Jillian Grudzinski regarding Distinguishing Human from Non-Human Bone and said she hopes to possibly become a Blood Spatter Analyst following graduation.
Other student presentations included Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs by Alicia Englert, FTIR Identification of Fibers by Mary Chylak, The Applicability of Epigenetic Studies in Forensic Science by Ashley Kopeck and A Question of Druidic Involvement by S. Andrea Parks. Additionally, Alexis Schwalm, who lectured regarding The Importance of Professional Organizations and Conferences, was presented with an award for Outstanding Forensic Science Student.
Senior Police Officer and Forensic Investigator for the Houston Forensic Science Center, Andrew Taravella, spoke about crime scene reconstruction. This is Taravella’s second year presenting at the symposium, and last year he spoke about photographic laser trajectories. He specializes in Forensic Photography and is even a third year Adjunct Instructor at Keystone, “it’s very rewarding,” he said. Taravella, who has 14 years worth of experience in the field, says his job really is as exciting as it seems on television.
The biggest reward of the day was the announcement that their fundraising efforts had secured enough funds to pay for a week long hotel stay for 11 students in Sacramento California. The students, along with Dr. Barette, will attend the 100th Anniversary of the International Association for Identification. According to Taravella, this is the largest forensic association in the world. Notably, John Walsh creator and host of the television show America’s Most Wanted, is slated as guest speaker at the opening ceremonies. This will be the 9th year students join Dr. Barette for this conference. Taravella said that students will see “everything from photography to fingerprinting to forensic artistry. It runs the gambit,” he said. The students will attends lectures, workshops and classes, and although it is mostly professionals Barette said “Keystone is one of the few schools that constantly has students that attend that conference. They’re a very dedicated group of students.”