By: Dr. Steven Lee
“The American Academy of Forensic Sciences is a multi-disciplinary professional organization that provides leadership to advance science and its application to the legal system. The objectives of the Academy are to promote professionalism, integrity, competency, education, foster research, improve practice, and encourage collaboration in the forensic sciences.”
On February 18th – 23rd, 2013, the AAFS held their annual meeting in Washington DC. The theme of the AAFS meeting this year was “The Forensic Sciences: Founded on Observation and Experiences, Improved by Education and Research”.
The conference includes topics in multiple areas of forensic science including criminalistics, digital and multimedia sciences, biology, toxicology, chemistry, odontology, pathology, physical anthropology, psychiatry and behavioral science, questioned documents, entomology, and jurisprudence. There were over 4000 attendees and presenters from nearly 100 different countries at this exciting meeting. There were 23 different workshops ranging in topics from “Mobile Devices Examination” to “The Predator Next Door: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex Offenders” to “Tracking John Wilkes Booth: An Interpretive Bus Tour”. The full proceedings of the meeting are already posted online at http://www.aafs.org/sites/default/files/pdf/ProceedingsWashingtonDC2013.pdf .
I was fortunate to attend many outstanding research papers and to represent the SJSU Forensic Science Program in multiple sessions.
One of the most interesting papers was on Wednesday 20th February in the Jurisprudence technical program entitled “NSTC Subcommittee on Forensic Science Process and Path Forward for U.S. Crime Laboratories: A Voluntary, Consensus-Based Approach.” (See http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/forensic-science-subcommittee-charter.pdf for more information).
The discussions following panel presentations were quite lively with controversy being expressed regarding transparency of results from the NSTC. Although the recommendations are published, they are currently not public due to regulations by the federal government over the NSTC Subcommittee. The panel reported that the successor to the NSTC Subcommittee will be an open, transparent commission. They reported that the United States Department of Justice is establishing a National Commission on Forensic Science. This commission will be tasked to: recommend priorities for standards development; recommend guidance developed by subject-matter experts; develop guidance on the intersection of forensic science and the courtroom; develop policy recommendations including a code of professional responsibility, and minimum requirements for training, accreditation, and certification; and assess current and future needs of forensic science. They assured the community that this new commission will be completely transparent as all their meetings will be open to the public.
As an appointed Chair of an International Forensic Genomics Consortium, a gathering of 20 forensic DNA leaders was held on Wednesday evening providing multiple networking opportunities to enhance collaborations for the SJSU Forensic Science program. This consortium is exploring next generation sequencing technologies that will permit the typing of all forensic genetic markers in a single tube (see http://www.illumina.com/applications/forensics.ilmn)
On Thursday 21 February I presented our research poster entitled “New Strategies to Overcoming PCR Inhibition Using Mutant Taq Polymerases and PCR Enhancers. This is research conducted at SJSU with support from an NSF REU SJSU Biology Department collaboration. SJSU student research assistants and co-authors, Hanna J. Bennett, BS, and Hillary B. Nguyen conducted the bulk of the experiments. In this study, a mutant Taq polymerase and two different PCR enhancers were tested for their ability to overcome inhibition on poor quality samples. The poster was well received and many attendees expressed an interest in the results of the study including representatives from the FBI, Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory, Las Vegas Metro PD, NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiners and the forensic DNA proficiency test provider, Collaborative Testing Services.
On Thursday evening, as director of the SJSU Forensic Science degrees, I presented several of our exciting programs during the Education Fair. In addition to presenting the Forensic Science BS Concentration in Biology and Concentration in Chemistry degrees, I also provided information on the NSF REU research program, the upcoming CSI Camp, the international collaboration training course CSI San Jose and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Forensic Science Education Conferences all to be held this coming summer from July 8th-12th . American Academy of Forensic Sciences co-sponsors Forensic Science Educational Conferences (FSEC). The goal of the Conferences is to increase science teachers’ knowledge of the forensic sciences and to assist them as they enrich and/or develop challenging, innovative curricula. (See http://www.aafs.org/forensic-science-educational-conferences for more information). SJSU is the only site on the west coast and the only university that has been selected 3 times to host the conference. In addition, Lee announced a new collaboration with Natasha’s Justice Project in which SJSU will lead the development of a new Forensic and Investigative Genetics Institute (see www.natashasjusticeproject.org for more information).
During the meeting I also was selected as a judge for the Emerging Young Forensic Science Award. I was asked to judge two papers from young forensic scientists and provide an evaluation of the quality of the research.
On Friday 22 February, I met with several different biotechnology groups interested in establishing collaborations with SJSU and the new NJP institute. One of the biotech companies, Integenx, located in Pleasonton, CA, has developed a push button DNA profiling instrument called the RapidHit that automates the process of generating single source, reference DNA profiles in 90 minutes! (see http://integenx.com/products/rapid-dna/ for more information).
After the last day of the conference on Saturday 23 February, I visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (http://airandspace.si.edu/) where there is an amazing collection of the history of flight and the exploration of space. I was especially impressed by the collection of memorabilia from the Wright Brothers that includes the first airplane ever to fly!