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Ph.D. Program Allowing Forensic Science Research to Expand at WVU

student with GCMS
“We don’t just tell them about it. They get to do it hands-on,” said Dr. Glen P. Jackson, Ming Hsieh Distinguished Professor of Forensic and Investigative Science.

In West Virginia University’s Department of Forensic and Investigative Science, much of that hands-on experience comes from assisting faculty with active research. Thanks to the newly developed Ph.D. program, students are able to be trained in undergraduate and stay to continue long term research.

“Often times by the time we get masters students trained to the level where they’re really independent and competent, it’s time to graduate,” Jackson said. “There’s huge benefits to having Ph.D. students that can spend longer time on a project.”

Jackson is one of several faculty who have grants from the National Institute of Justice to aid their ongoing research that could impact the forensic science field.

“To look at the chemical analysis of human hair to see if we can determine some soft biometrics about people from their hair,” explained Jackson. “For example, their bodymass index or their age or their sex just by chemical measurements of their hair. This is not DNA.”

Other faculty NIJ grants for research include Dr. Speir who is researching footwear impression to build a database and Dr. Morris’s research on ballistics.

Their research has also helped four faculty become members of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Organization of Scientific Area Committees, which looks at procedures and other forensic science guidelines.  

“The goal is to set standards for how to do forensic science and how to practice it in the area,” Jackson said. The goal is that one day they’ll be enforceable so the labs will have to meet that minimum standard.”

Jackson said this ongoing research and practical experience for students at all levels along with the advanced laboratories and crime scene training complex has made WVU one of the best forensic programs in the country and even the world.