A Lifetime of Curiosity

by Robert (Bud) Talbot, PhD

Dr. Talbot’s STEM of choice is Science with a focus on physics education. He now works for The University of Colorado Denver, as an assistant professor of science education in the School of Education and Human Development. Dr. Talbot helps to recruit and train new secondary school science teachers, and does research on teaching and learning science at the university level. In his spare time, outside of work, Dr. Talbot loves to run, work with technology (especially amateur radio!), engage in citizen science projects, and do sciency things with his 6 year old twin daughters. If there was one thing he wished he had known before college about STEM, it would be “how being scientifically literate shapes the way you do anything and everything in the world!”

He studied for many years to get where he is, first at Indiana University for degrees in Geology and science education (BS and MS), then at the University of Colorado Boulder for a PhD in science education, researching how to develop tests and surveys to be used in science teaching and learning.

Introduction

My bio is above, but that is not who I am. Here’s the truth about me: I’m a geek and I’ve always been a geek. I love geeky things like technology, computing, and amateur radio. But I also love to be active. I’m totally obsessed with running and I love to dig deep into all of the data related to my running: GPS tracks, heart rate, power output, pace- lots of numbers! All of this geekery was instilled in me early on. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where we spent a lot of time outdoors, camping, hiking, taking crazy roadtrips. Did I mention maps? I LOVE maps. They are everywhere in my house. Anyway, back to my childhood. My mom told me that I once went to the public library at the age of 6 and asked for a book on “splitting atoms.” Of course I don’t recall that, but I bet it was a cool book. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was well on my way to being a science teacher.

Materials and Methods

Degrees can only tell you so much about a person’s STEM career, here’s my actual journey: I thought I wanted to be an accountant when I started college. My brother in law was an accountant and I really looked up to him. But the classes turned out to be really boring! Then I discovered Geology. What fun! Maps, rocks, lots of camping and hiking. That was the best. So now I was on my way to being a geologist. Well, I ended up taking a few years off from school before finishing (long story…) during which time I realized that my true passion was trying to help others see how cool science was. I was always asking questions and getting others to geek out with me. So it seemed natural that I should be a teacher!

I went back to school and became a high school physics and Earth science teacher. It was a great experience, and I was fortunate enough to learn a lot and build lasting relationships with many of my students. I know that my work made a difference. After seven years of teaching, I yearned for more learning and to work with teachers, so I went to graduate school in Boulder. It was there that I learned about research on teaching and learning, which prepared me for the job I now have as a professor.

Results

Right now, I am focusing on undergraduate science education at my job as an assistant professor. We help other professors to think about better ways to teach biology, chemistry, and physics at the university, and investigate the impacts of innovative teaching on how students learn. Our main focus is to help students in these courses succeed and become prepared to pursue their future goals. Our work is making a difference!

Discussion

I love science education, and especially physics, and here’s why: it really helps me to see how important it is to have a scientific worldview. I can apply scientific reasoning to any aspect of my life. Not only is that fun, it is useful. Many of the skills and dispositions that we use as scientists (like curiosity, research methods, and writing ability) are useful in all aspects of life. And my interest in physics and Earth sciences lets me do lots of fun things in my spare time, like amateur radio (my callsign is W0RMT), and participating in citizen science projects (check out CoCoRaHS, mPING, CWOP, SETI@home, and LHC@home).

Science is everywhere, and it’s fun and useful. It leads to a lifetime of curiosity!   

Canis lupus familiarus: A ridiculous story of artificial selection

By Dr. Debbie Rook

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“Natural Selection” is a complicated and intricate biological concept that often trips up the most educated and well-read among us. To get to that, we’re first going to start with something we all can relate to and understand- specifically, breeding or “artificial selection”. This means specifically that people are the selecting what traits are passed on to the next generation, instead of nature.

Think of a dog, any dog. You may know a chihuahua down the street or your great aunt’s mastiff. Dogs come in amazingly different varieties, different sizes, weights, strengths, hair, tails, ears, noses… you name it! You probably have heard that the dog came from wild wolves, which even look like a few breeds (huskies and malamutes, mostly). But how did we get there? How is that even possible to get so much change in just a couple of thousand years?

Artificial selection is the answer. Back in the days long ago (around 130,000 years ago), there were likely wolves that hung out around farmers or nomadic tribes because there was easy food to get- whether it be cattle or other farm animals, the rabbits that came to eat crops, or simply leftover scraps that were either discarded or given to the wolves willingly. Over time, the wolves that had a nicer temperament (less biting, better smiles), would be given more scraps (think if a stray dog came up to you at a park- would you share your ham sandwich if it was growling at you or cuddled next to your side?). This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between the more tame of the wolves and the humans. Now, how was this really selecting? The humans were not breeding these dogs yet, nor were the animals even living with them, so how could that change the population? Simple- food. The nicer dogs are more likely to get scraps from the humans, and therefore more likely to survive the winter and reproduce, while the mean wolves got no scraps and had to fend for themselves. Slowly over time, the scrap-grabbing would change into cohabitation of tame wolves and humans, which would allow those dogs to have even more offspring, because they were being actively cared for by the humans. And that’s how you get dogs! Bring a nice wolf into your house and in a couple (hundred) generations you’ll have yourself a dog (but don’t try this at home…).

So that’s great, a slow change in the population over thousands of years got us from nasty predator wolves to tame live-in dogs. But how did we go from wolf-like dogs (big, sharp teeth, long noses, pointy ears) to all the different kinds today (big/small, variable teeth, long/short/pug noses, pointy/droopy ears)? That is where serious artificial selection comes in, breeding.

Say you are a farmer and need a dog to look after your flock of sheep. You start with the basic wolf-dog and you select for traits that you want. Specifically, you want a dog that is kind to you and your sheep but will scare away other animals. So you take all your dogs and find the ones that meet those criteria best. They won’t be perfect yet, maybe it will sometimes snap at you or a sheep, but otherwise just likes to chase off coyotes. You mate the two together that have the best traits. Those offspring then will have a smaller range of these traits closer to your ideal. It’s possible that in one generation you will have succeeded with at least one of the dogs, but if not you just try again with the next breeding cycle. This also works if you need a dog to pull a sled, or find foxes, or cuddle with your kids, or even carry in your purse. Slowly, over a few generations you can get a lot of change in these animals.

I’ll give you one more example because I think it is so cool. Bull terriers. Bull terriers are known for their noses that are shorter and angled downwards. Here is one:

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This is a very dramatic feature, so you’d think that it would take hundreds or years to get a nose like that from a regular looking dog. BUT…

Here is a bull terrier from 1915.

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And 1918 (for good measure).

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You can see that those noses have changed a lot in the last hundred years. The 1918 picture also shows you a little how this works. If you look at the four dogs, they are all bull terriers and likely related, but there is variation (differences) between the noses. Specifically, the second from the left has a nose that is slightly more downturned than his siblings. If you were trying to make the modern bull terrier, he is the dog you would want to mate to get the next generation.

So you can see that in a few decades you can get dramatic changes in breeds of dog, all by having humans select traits that they like the most. Selective breeding has brought about the multitude of types of dogs that you see today. Hopefully you have a better understanding of this now that you’ve seen it in action!

Next time: nature takes a crack at selecting for different animals, incredible variation, and adaptation occurs.

The Zika Virus (#1)

By Lauren A. R. Tompkins

A collection/series of blog posts entitled:

The Zika virus pandemic – insights from a scientist

The past few weeks (March 2016) have provided major advances in our understanding of Zika virus through publication of several key research studies. In the wake of the global response to the Ebola virus outbreaks, measures to expedite research and prevention strategies for Zika virus are now underway. Emerging infectious diseases, which manifest outbreaks without warning and often without the presence of effective control measures, are dramatically affecting how information is shared between scientists and how prevention strategies, such as vaccines, are regulated. In a time of public health crisis, the scientific community has pulled together with the common goal of a rapid response to combat Zika virus.

 First blog post for this series, entitled: The politics of Zika virus

             On Monday (April 11, 2016), Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), addressed reporters at a White House briefing. The topic of discussion was Zika virus and an appeal for the necessary funds to prepare for mosquito season, when the virus will likely spread to the southern United States. According to the CDC, at least 346 people from the continental United States have been infected with the virus, mainly through travel-related exposure. However, with the summer months approaching, and mosquito populations expanding with warmer weather, local transmission of Zika virus is likely to occur.

A gridlocked Congress is not an unusual concept to the American people. Still, a “public health crisis of international concern”, as stated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February of this year, should theoretically hold weight if politicians continually claim to have the best interests of Americans in mind, let alone the public health of all inhabitants of our planet. Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans are tightening their wallets and stubbornly resisting the allocation of necessary funds for combating Zika virus. Rather than listening to knowledgeable scientists and public health officials, pleas for appropriations are falling on deaf ears. Indeed, President Obama has asked Congress, again, for the full $1.9 billion dollars that is required to fuel Zika virus research. On Tuesday (April 12, 2016), Congress approved a bill to provide financial incentives to companies to develop treatments for Zika virus infection, although no funding was provided. Currently, roughly $600 million has been diverted from the Ebola virus funds towards Zika virus research.

Let me pause here to let the following concept sink in: now that Ebola is no longer a potential threat to the United States, it is assumed that the rest of the world can handle the fallout itself…but, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, announced in January that although all known chains of transmission in West Africa had stopped, including the most recent outbreak in Liberia, new flare-ups are likely to occur. This will require a sustained response for prevention of future outbreaks. Indeed, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, told reporters, “We face two global health challenges, Ebola and Zika, and we don’t have an option to set one aside in the name of the other.” The decision to pull money from the Ebola fund is somewhat analogous to withdrawing military troops from countries where the United States has intervened and then pulled out, for one reason or another, hoping for sustainable change in those regions. Historically, this system doesn’t seem to work, and furthers the global opinion that Americans don’t care about non-Americans.

There is a comical phrase among infectious disease scientists: “ATM diseases” get the money. Essentially, the majority of funding is allocated to AIDS/HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria research, which some say are “sexy diseases” as they engender public attention. We know that these diseases are incredibly important to study and combat, but when funding is limited, research on other diseases stalls. Why don’t we know that much about Zika virus? It didn’t cause outbreaks until recently. This is the problem with emerging pathogens: they burst forth rapidly when we don’t have the tools to control them. The scientific community is now scrambling, working around the clock to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible. $600 million sounds like a great deal of money, but it is nowhere near enough to fight Zika virus, as Dr. Fauci reiterated on Monday.

Pull-quote: “When the president asked for $1.9 billion, we needed $1.9 billion.” – Dr. Fauci, NIAID

One day several years ago, as a novice virologist, I was star struck when I met Dr. Fauci during one of his routine visits to the laboratories of the NIAID. The first thing I noticed was Dr. Fauci’s notorious New York accent, the second, his calm demeanor, humility, and compassion. His lectures inspired me, giving me great faith in the leaders of our scientific community. Why this faith is lacking in our Congressional leaders is nonsensical to me. If we cannot trust those we have appointed to run programs ethically and passionately, then what is the point of having these leaders?

Pull-quote: “Everything we look at with (Zika) virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought.” – Dr. Schuchat, CDC

The NIAID and CDC, institutions that preserve public health in America, are not the only scientific leaders voicing the urgency of combating infectious disease outbreaks before they become uncontrollable pandemics. The WHO has also emphasized the potential consequences of a Zika virus pandemic. Indeed, although Zika virus is an old virus (it was discovered in 1947), it emerged as a rapidly spreading pathogen causing sizeable outbreaks in recent years. In the span of about one year, 440,000 to 1.3 million Brazilians have been infected with Zika virus, which has spread to at least 33 countries. At this point, the association between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and microcephaly, a condition among infants resulting in a smaller than normal head size, has essentially reached causality. That is, scientists can definitively and causally link the virus to microcephaly. [In subsequent posts, I will present some of the important research rocketing into publication regarding this issue.] In addition to microcephaly, the WHO acknowledges that Zika virus infection likely causes Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks his/her own nerves.

Science is not devoid of political influence. Granted, financial resources are not endless, but history has shown the rapidity with which infectious diseases can spread and the devastation that follows. We were not prepared for Ebola virus, which claimed the lives of over 11,000 people. Will the necessary funding come for Zika virus research, or are we destined to continually ignore potential public health crises until it’s too late to combat them?

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Hot and Spicy Chemicals

By Dr. Doris Kimbrough

You grab a bag of corn chips and a bowl of salsa out of the refrigerator and settle in to watch TV. The salsa is hotter than you expected and after about five chips, your mouth is on fire. Big gulps of ice water don’t help, so you head back to the kitchen to look for sour cream or a glass of milk. What is going on in your mouth? How can cold salsa from the fridge burn your mouth? Why doesn’t cold water help the way it would for hot soup or hot tea? How does the sour cream or whole milk solve the problem?

To answer these questions we have to look at some special nerve cells (neurons) and the chemicals found in hot peppers. In addition to the nerve cells that help you move (motor) and control body functions (autonomic) you have lots of different kinds of sensory nerve cells. Sensory neurons are responsible vision and hearing and all your other senses. There are many different types of neurons involved in touch. Some can detect pain; others respond to pressure, heat, cold, or itchiness to name a few. The nerve cells that detect heat are the ones we need to focus on for this story.

Heat detecting neurons don’t work at or below normal body temperature; think of them as sleeping until you touch a hot stove when they wake up and tell you “Ouch, pull back! Pull back!” Hot peppers like jalapeños contain a chemical called capsaicin (cap-SAY-shin) that fools these nerve cells. The capsaicin binds to the nerve cells and wakes them up. Your brain gets signals that something is burning you even though nothing that is actually hot (in temperature) is involved. There are other chemicals that can do this: piperine and sabinene are chemicals found in ground pepper and curry spices.

So why doesn’t a nice cold drink of water help with the burning? Capsaicin is a chemical that is hydrophobic—literally: “water fearing”. Capsaicin doesn’t really fear water; it can’t because it is a molecule, which cannot have feelings. However hydrophobic compounds, like capsaicin, do not dissolve in water. Other hydrophobic substances are vegetable oil, wax and gasoline. So when you gulp cold water because spicy salsa is “burning” your mouth, the capsaicin stays bound to your neuron and your brain still gets signals that your mouth is burning. Hydrophobic compounds do dissolve in other hydrophobic substances, like oils or fats. You may have heard the expression, “like dissolves like”. The fat in sour cream and whole milk will dissolve the capsaicin and remove it from the nerve cell. This turns off the signaling to the brain and lets you get on with your life.

About the author: Doris Kimbrough is a chemistry professor at CU Denver. She grew up in Atlanta, GA, and went to college at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and to graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She has loved science and chemistry since she was a little girl when her chemist father let her play (safely!) with stuff in his lab.

For the Love of Legos…An Engineering Story.

Scott Volchko, PE

Introduction– Who I really am

I’ll admit it upfront, I am close to the stereotypical engineer. The quiet, introvert type whose mind is always wandering, but how did I become a STEM kid? I still kind of wonder today. I don’t remember the day I decided to become a mechanical engineer, but I’ve always been fascinated by what I’ll call machines, my generic term for anything with moving parts.

I am the son of an elementary teacher and a systems analyst, but I think I have to go back one more generation to really find out where the engineer inside me came from. Although my grandparents were retired from the time I can remember, both my grandfathers were builders. My maternal grandfather was a welder and my paternal grandfather was a machinist and machine assembler. Both of them taught me from a young age how to use tools, make repairs from whatever was available and take care of your machines… most notably boats, cars, and yard equipment.

As I was growing up, much to my dad’s dismay, if there was something to take apart, I took it apart. Sometimes the machines went back together, but most of the time there was carnage. When I wasn’t destroying things, Legos were my media to build, take apart and build again. Since I’ve always liked cars, I usually built cars and garages for my cars. I was probably about 12 years old when I decided to build a Lego truck and mount a C6 Estes model rocket motor in the bed. Let’s just say I should have used the Kragel.

As a grown engineer, I still love machines and building. I have restored cars, worked on boats, started tinkering with wood working, and most importantly still buy cool Lego sets wondering why they have an age range and not just a minimum age. Can you ever be too old to play with Legos?

Materials and Methods– How I got here

My first formal dive into the science world came as a member of my high school Science Olympiad team. The two years I competed in the Science Olympiad were also the first two years that my high school participated. To say we were not prepared would be an understatement, but everyone on the team learned a lot. We had prepared for some of the competitions and walked blind into others doing our best. Since I went to a smaller high school, the only AP class I took was calculus. We had two other AP classes, but what STEM kid wants to take AP english or history?

Just before my search for colleges started I bought a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro project car and started tinkering. As I previously mentioned, I don’t remember when I decided to become a mechanical engineer, but I was always working to figure out how parts were made and what the engineer had in mind 30 years before when the car was designed. Over time I just decided I wanted to design cars and mechanical engineering seemed like the profession to get me there.

My college search took me around the Midwest to a few Big Ten schools, Notre Dame University, Case Western Reserve University, and Kettering University. Finally, I narrowed down my decision to Case or Penn State and chose Case for its small size and location. My opinion of the most important thing you can do as an undergraduate is get involved in extra-curricular activities you are passionate about. My activity was Formula SAE and much like Science Olympiad, we were building a new program from the ground up. We took two years to build one car, but learned a ton and finished all events in the competition. I stayed at Case for a fifth year and earned a MSME degree, researching with NASA on space micro-propulsion devices.

Results– What I do now

Well this is simple, I am a Mechanical Engineer! My first job out of college was obtained through the Formula SAE program. I was hired to work at a large automotive OEM as an automotive designer then went on to a small to medium sized materials company as both a product and a process designer. As an automotive designer, I was responsible for design of parts or complete systems for automotive fuel systems. As a designer the slate is often clean and ready for innovation. As an automotive designer, I received six design patents, most of which are driving around on highways around the globe.

My current role as Manager of New Product and Process Development for a small materials company gives me the opportunity to both design products and then be part of the production process, helping define manufacturing processes as required.

 

Discussion– What truly is a Mechanical Engineer

In my opinion the definition of engineer or the field of engineering, regardless of the specialty, is a problem solver. Education in engineering is all about learning the tools to solve problems. Every engineer takes courses in other engineering disciplines to get a basic understanding of each field, just enough to be dangerous.

So what is a mechanical engineer? Mechanical engineering is probably the broadest field in engineering. A lot of engineering disciplines are really specialized versions of mechanical engineering. Within the broad scope of mechanical engineering there is also product engineering, process engineering and test engineering. Think about the objects you interact with every day in life starting with your toothbrush, the water faucet, the floors you walk on the shoes you wear, and the car you ride in or drive. Mechanical engineers had a hand in all of those objects at least in the background making sure these objects were designed right, performed their desired function correctly and that there was an efficient manufacturing process to make the products.

The final component and often overlooked part of an engineering education is the business component. In every business there will be pressure from accounting and finance to reduce expenses and pressure from sales to reduce price and increase quality. As a mechanical engineer, it’s always best to go into a design, test, or process development with an idea of a budget in mind and only deviate from the budget if you feel there is a safety problem or the product will not meet the customers needs.

 

Programming to a Different Path

By Benjamin Chodoroff

Benjamin Chodoroff’s STEM of choice is sort-of math and sort-of engineering: computer programming. He started writing computer programs on his TI-85 calculator in 9th grade, and got interested in building websites for anti-war organizations. He found a career as an independent contractor building small database applications & prototypes for all sorts of clients. After work, he plays with radios, learns about programming theory, and mentors new programmers.

I took a circuitous, but not so rare, path to my career as a computer programmer: I started learning on my own in highschool, not really realizing that it could potentially be a lucrative career. I programmed little scripts to make my life easier, built websites for friends, and automated tasks for small businesses, but never really took it seriously — the reward of figuring out a complex puzzle & understanding large systems was reward enough.

During highschool, I was very lucky to be friends with another computer programmer. While we did enroll in an as-of-then-brand-new AP computer science course, we were much more interested in learning everything we could about programming on our own. We were very different types of students in school, but neither of us found the inspiration and fun in our classes that we found while building our own projects.

After high school, we were both lucky to find meaningful and challenging careers as programmers without college degrees. While he worked in enterprise software development, I consulted with small businesses, building them websites and databases. I started to help out with free software projects, which has become a fulfilling and consistent aspect of my day-to-day work. I did study at colleges a bit, but didn’t take any engineering or CS courses — it never occurred to me as something I would go to school and learn when there were so many people willing to pay me to build something already.

I sometimes run into issues where I think to myself, “this might be easier if I’d taken a course in this-or-that theory,” but it’s pretty rare. When it does happen, I have a great excuse to dive into some books, ask a friend, or simply discover a solution on my own.

Sometimes I wonder what would’ve been different about my life if there were more programmers in my middle or high schools, or if there were active FIRST robotics programs — I bet there would’ve been more, and more diverse, software developers popping up!

I didn’t have many mentors until very recently in my career. It’s only been over the past few years that I’ve had the chance to work with people significantly older than me. With programming, it’s easy to rely on reading books & articles on the web in lieu of having a mentor, but you miss out of some of the more esoteric skills, like how to manage client relationships & how to balance work and free time.

I love working as a programmer — I’m forced to learn new things all the time, and I deeply enjoy doing so. The prospect of being too out-of-date might be daunting sometimes, but after a while you realize the the core concepts never change — you just have to learn how to apply them to new things, all the time.

Using Forensic Science to Track Down a Career

by Samantha Rynas

 

Introduction- Who I really am

I always remember enjoying science.  How things all fit together and worked.  How all the little parts of the body could work together so in sync that you don’t even know its happening.  My earliest memory of being interested in science was a microscope set I had as a kid. I remember trying to find more things around the house to look at under the microscope, grass, hairs, carpet fibers, anything really.  I was interested in being an E.M.T. (Emergency Technician) at one point., Mmy sister and I would look through an EMT book my Dad had and read about injuries and how to deal with them.  I also remember my sisters and I scheming of ways to engineer fun things.  One example being: trying to convert old Radio Flyer wagon into some kind of go cart., Tthat didn’t go so well…but we always had fun doing it and never let any failures stop us from trying new projects.  We just hadn’t figured out the best way yet. I think making things with my hands was also a big part of my childhood.  My dad was a Ham Radio Operator and he would let us help him make antennas in the garage.  Having an interest in making things has followed me for years, in middle school I discovered Drafting class which led me into wanting to scale up my projects from at home projects to homes; pursuing architecture or engineering.

 

Materials and Methods- How I got here

I’ve had a pretty windy road to get to where I am. I did not go into school with a set plan.  In middle school I was interested in biology, but really enjoyed drawing up housing plans.  Throughout high school I took a CAD class and learned more about drafting, but I had a great biology teacher who got me really interested in science as well.  There was also the always crazy Chemistry/physics teacher… The one that would ask how big of an explosion did you want, or consistently had blood on his lab coat from things like a failed potato launcher.

 

As High School was coming to a close and college was looming I had a few options in front of me.  It is really interesting how things work out, while a lot of things can seem like doors getting shut, I am extremely grateful for all these doors being shut – it got me to where I am now.  My senior year of high school I moved states, the new school had a different grading scale,  causing my GPA to drop.  Sadly this greatly affected my ability to go to my first choice school, North Carolina State which had a great Engineering program, the route I was hoping to pursue. Moving to another state had another effect as well.  I picked up my running training, and my running times for cross country dropped down to a competitive level.  I had moved from highly competitive California to North Carolina which was less populated and less competitive opening doors to getting a running scholarship to college.  In my senior year I was able to secure a scholarship to a small private university, Pfeiffer University. Pfeiffer had both options for a Biology degree as well as engineering, so I decided to go there.  

 

While at Pfeiffer my track continued to change.  My hopes were dashed for engineering – I am terrible at math.  So I focused on Biology.  The professors were fun, they kept things interesting.  I worked on extra research, specifically on Twin’s DNA since I am a twin and found this to be interesting.  About half way through college I was seeing myself at a crossroads, I needed to figure out if I was going to pursue an advanced degree and if so what?  What are your options as a Biology major?  As a Biology major, basically all jobs required additional degrees and I knew I didn’t want to go to be a Doctor. I felt pretty trapped in my options. I had no interest in going to medical school.  This was the wagon project again, I had a problem, figure out “what I want to be when I grow up”, I just hadn’t figured out the answer yet. While in college I had continued to develop my interest in making things, more specifically – Art class.  So I started to think of ways to combine both these topics I enjoyed.  I came up with Forensic Sketching. After researching this option I found a dead end, this profession was a dying field and mostly done digitally now.  Looking into Forensics did spark my interest though, and I started looking at other fields in Forensics. There were a lot of options in Forensics I could do DNA or crime scene photography. I already had some DNA research and was learning the basics of photography in my art courses.  I knew that as a kid looking through EMT books that blood and injuries didn’t bother me, so likely I could handle messy crime scenes. As I researched it the more interested I got in the subject.  I also discovered Pfeiffer had a Forensics concentration and I already had most of the classes.  So I decided to pursue that track and eventually decided to get a Masters in Forensic Science and focus on DNA testing.

 

Results- What I do now

After obtaining my Masters I decided I wanted to work in a crime lab and landed a job in New Mexico, at the state crime lab.  I get to test items of evidence that law enforcement submits to our lab for testing.  Our goal is to help answer what happened at the scene.  It starts with identifying where DNA could be in the form of biological fluids and after identifying possible fluids to test who could be the source of the fluid through DNA testing.  DNA testing helps to answer questions about the crime – who was touching these items? Is this substance blood?  Whose blood? Was this item used in the crime? etc…

Discussion- Passion for the subject

While working in the Crime lab, it has been amazing to help solve crimes.  You can both clear people and identify an unknown person.  Answer important questions like what the weapon was.   This job always keeps you on your toes and keeps you thinking.  There are a lot of puzzle pieces to put together.  It is great to see the direct results of your testing and know that you are helping all those involved with these crimes.