New Lab for Forensics majors

The difference between ordinary elementary school kitchens and what was once the kitchen in the former Vineyard Elementary-now UVU’s Education Building-is that in ordinary elementary school kitchens hairnets are obligatory and they typically do not have upwards of half a million dollars in equipment. But in EB 136 there is just that. And it’s not a kitchen anymore; it’s UVU’s state-of-the-art forensic science lab, hairnets optional.

There is an old saying in court proceedings to “let the evidence speak for itself.” However, according to UVU’s Director of Forensic Science, Dr. Gary Naisbitt, it often takes an entire panel of highly specialized experts who are well versed in the proper manner in which to gather analyze and interpret data and speak for the physical evidence of a given case, hence the need to train forensic experts in nearly every field.

The difference between a forensic scientist and an average, garden-variety scientist is, as Naisbitt stated it, “forensic people wear two hats.” “They are experts in a given field and also experts in rules of evidence and court procedure.”

The lab, which has been at least partially operational for a year now, is Naisbitt’s brainchild. Naisbitt, who spent six years working at the state crime lab, along with the Dean of Science, Sam Rushforth, has spent more than the last three years designing the lab, lobbying for its funding and overseeing its construction. Naisbitt credits Rushforth for procuring most of the funding, which Naisbitt says came largely in the form of earmark grants.

The basic design of the kitchen space was a near seamless fit for the type of lab he envisioned. The large storage closets spaced fairly evenly about the perimeter of the former kitchen are each about the perfect size to house one of the several pieces of sophisticated equipment that the lab employs with enough room for a few students to enter, close the door and work without disrupting others in the lab, if necessary.

There’s one closet that houses a $120,000 gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer that is used to separate liquid compounds into their various components for identification and chemical trace analysis. In another closet sits an infrared spectrometer that performs a similar task on samples of solid matter. Yet another closet houses a pair of comparison microscopes, one known as a “bullet scope” to compare identifying scratches and grooves on discharged bullets to and one for comparing fibers, each worth around $35,000.

There is also a computer lab complete with enough microscopes for each student, to which all the instruments are networked so students can pull up various test results from their workstations. It may be among the most sophisticated forensic science teaching facility in the U.S. Naisbitt says that he knows of no other.

Demand for forensic experts in law enforcement is on the rise. According to Naisbitt, state and federal agencies are leaving a growing amount of forensic investigation up to local agencies. “For years they’ve done their own fingerprints,” Naisbitt said. “Now the state wants local agencies to handle all the marijuana cases. We’re trying to send them new recruits.”

UVU’s Criminal Justice department currently offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science that Naisbitt says can be linked to an emphasis in virtually every field.

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