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Author Presentations: Tuesday, June 13

Abstracts are listed in order of author presentations on Tuesday, June 13. Abstracts and the presentation schedule are subject to change; check this page regularly for additions and updates.


Revealing What Leeuwenhoek Saw
Brian J Ford (Prerecorded video presentation)
Antony van Leeuwenhoek died 300 years ago, and this presentation commemorates his life’s work. Forty years ago, Brian J. Ford used an original Leeuwenhoek microscope in Holland to take the first color photographs of Leeuwenhoek’s own specimens, which Professor Ford had discovered, hidden among the collections of the Royal Society of London. But what could Leeuwenhoek observe as he explored the microscopical world? Today we experience video micrographs taken through single-lensed microscopes. At last we can reprise what the first microscopists saw centuries ago.

“I’m Tired”: The Case of a Damaged Truck Tire
Pete Diaczuk — John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
This is a case study about a truck-tire failure that was blamed on the driver. The tire failure allegedly caused the truck driver to lose control and crash the government vehicle. Upon examination of the tire damage, the accident investigator accused the driver of sabotaging the tire after the accident in order to blame the tire for the crash instead of admitting that he had driven carelessly. The driver admitted that he had brushed against the curb, causing the tire to blow out immediately. However, he was fired for trying to conceal his error by puncturing the tire with a knife. An examination of the tire hole with polarized light microscopy revealed the true cause of the accident.

Devil in the Details: Attributing Significance to Minor Analytical Data in a Forensic Comparison
Christopher S. Palenik — Microtrace LLC
Forensic trace evidence comparisons are generally based upon multiple lines of analytical data that are used to determine if a sample is consistent or inconsistent with a suspected source. In the reporting phase of the analysis, this multifaceted dataset is typically condensed into a single sentence conclusion. For example, a conclusion may read, “Items Q and K are consistent by color, texture, and composition.” This generic conclusion, or a similar statement, can be found in reports based on materials as disparate as fibers, paint, and soil, and the conclusion is often, if not typically, presented without further discussion or documentation (e.g., images, spectra, data).

While superficially, such conclusions are simplified to a single, apparently, definitive answer, a critical review of the underlying data often shows a more complex story. Through examples, this talk will illustrate how recognizing and exploring the actual significance of underlying microanalytical data can lead to more nuanced findings. In some cases, careful review will disclose that the analytical work is actually quite cursory and less probative than implied, raising questions about the significance of a conclusion. In still other cases, these reviews have identified analytical differences of unknown significance. When the opportunity arises to explore and account for these differences through further analysis, we have found associations turn to eliminations and other instances where an association becomes more significant than originally implied. Such reviews require a critical look at the original raw data; a strong, fundamental understanding of the trace materials themselves; the preparation methods employed; and analytical approaches used to generate them. While such efforts are time consuming, they can lead to deeper insights into the significance of trace evidence evaluations.

Assessing Redundancy of UV-Vis Microspectrophotometry, Scanning Electron Microscopy/Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, and Raman Spectroscopy to the Detection of Distinguishing Features of Colored Spray Paint
Morgan Carpenter (presenting author), Jared Estevanes, and Patrick Buzzini — Department of Forensic Science, Sam Houston State University
Forensic paint examination utilizes an analytical scheme that begins with microscopical examinations followed by different instrumental analysis techniques. Several of these methods, when used in sequence, detect analytical information on the same components of the paint formulation that leads to positing that redundancy in their joint use exists. This redundancy, which may also vary depending on paint color, may limit the overall discriminating abilities of the adopted analytical scheme. This study surveyed the use of various instrumental analysis methods typically used in forensic paint examinations and recommended in the document ASTM Standard E1610-18 Standard Guide for Forensic Paint Analysis and Comparison to evaluate their potential redundancy of response to the detection of features of interest in paint samples. UV-Vis microspectrophotometry (UV-Vis MSP), scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM/EDS), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and Raman spectroscopy were used to analyze five spray paint brands in five colors (black, blue, red, silver/gray, and white) as an example. An understanding of redundancy can inform the trace evidence examiner about the best protocol to be adopted as well as the limitations of combining different methods for a given paint color.

The Examination of Stomach Contents in a Suspected Suicide
Jason Beckert — Microtrace LLC
This presentation will discuss a case study involving the examination of the stomach contents of an individual suspected of committing suicide. The sample was submitted to our laboratory by a medical examiner who recognized the presence of some foreign material during an autopsy. He wanted to know if this material, ingested shortly prior to the decedent’s demise, could be related to the cause of death. Our analysis focused on the identification of this unknown material that we determined to be leaves and seeds from a yew (Taxus) plant. Yew plants, native to many regions in the Northern Hemisphere, are also commonly used in landscaping and are known to contain poisonous alkaloids. This presentation will also discuss the historical usage of yew plants as agents to facilitate suicide and homicidal poisonings.

Basic Light Microscopy Techniques Used in the Initial Analysis of 9/11 Ground Zero Dust
Nicholas Petraco
The overwhelming task of analyzing the Ground Zero dust generated by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City was a daunting task, at best. What possible analytical method(s) could be utilized to achieve an accurate yet timely report and give the thousands of first responders answers to their questions: What are we breathing in? Is it dangerous? Do the standard personal-protective equipment provide sufficient protection? Will this dust cause future illness?

As a practicing forensic microscopist for more than 40 years, the author had the answer. Stereomicroscopy, polarized light microscopy, and dispersion staining (DS) are the powerful light microscopy methods and techniques used successfully throughout his career to study, characterize, and identify the limitless number of substances found in household, street, and construction dust. Thanks to the extensive work and teaching of Dr. Walter McCrone, forensic scientists have employed these methods to study, identify, and compare materials such as glass fragments, hairs, synthetic and natural fibers, minerals, pigments, inorganic and organic salts, pollens, fibers, plant matter, insect parts, and the myriad other materials present in dust specimens. There is no better way to tackle such a Herculean task. This study presents the results of the author’s initial characterization of what is now known to be deadly dust from Ground Zero.


Investigating the Utility of Novel Techniques for the Forensic Characterization and Comparison of Surficial Soils
Jack Hietpas (presenting author), Ethan Groves, Liam O’Callaghan, Christopher S. Palenik, and Skip Palenik — Microtrace LLC
Geological materials, such as soil and dust, are ubiquitous and often inadvertently transferred to people and objects during criminal events, unfortunately, they are one of the most underutilized forms of trace evidence. The limited use of this form of physical evidence stems from the need for highly specialized knowledge to analyze and interpret soil evidence. However, when properly analyzed, it can be a very powerful form of physical evidence to establish or refute linkages between people, places, and objects. Forensic geologists use a range of particle-based analytical approaches to characterize the organic and inorganic components of soils to perform sample-to-sample (K-Q) comparisons. This presentation will discuss aspects of a large-scale research project that is currently investigating the potential value added from two new methods for the forensic examination of soil: 1) SEM-EDS based routine for high-throughput identification and quantitation of soil minerals, and 2) DNA characterization of the accompanying biological taxa. These methods will be assessed by characterizing 180 surficial soil samples collected from the three primary physiographic regions of North Carolina. These proposed methods may provide quantitative and objective metrics for forensic soil analysis and its interpretation.

Soil Preparation for Forensic Research and Analysis
Liam O’Callaghan (presenting author), Ethan Groves, Jack Hietpas, Skip Palenik, and Christopher S. Palenik — Microtrace LLC
The analysis of soil for forensic purposes can include a complex series of analyses that can include geological, biological, and anthropogenic fractions of a sample. The initial steps of this process include documenting, sieving, and separating a soil into fractions that can be subjected to further analysis. As part of an extensive research project spanning several hundred soil samples, a preparation scheme modified from Skip Palenik’s technique for microscopical soil examination has been adopted to isolate various size and density fractions of the mineral component. This talk will provide an overview of this process and the challenges encountered in processing soils from a range of depositional environments. A qualitative overview of the resulting fractions and comparisons back to the original samples will be presented.

3D Light Microscopy Images
Andrew A. “Tony” Havics — pH2, LLC
Over the years, 3D images have been both desired and used to provide an enhanced view of microscopic specimens. In general, one can say there are two approaches to 3D representation, both tied to human factors. The first approach is based on stereographic image production and the second is based on serial or continuous depth of focus. The stereographic approach relies on the natural human perspective of viewing an object from two eyes gathering light waves at offset angles from one another that are then combined into a single image by the brain. The 3D effect derives from angle of view to a fixed focal plane and the space within the depth of focus range for that plane. The second approach attempts to create an image completely in focus in all planes. The first can be achieved by tilting the specimen, using offset optics to mimic stereography, color separation and isolation techniques, and modifying the optical path in two different ways. The second approach typically uses image stacking but could be accomplished with continuous selective directed lighting.

Without a Trace: Quantifying Declines in Trace Analysis using Project FORESIGHT
Matthew A. Franzman (presenting speaker) — School of Criminal Justice, College of Public Affairs, University of Baltimore
Paul J. Speaker — John Chambers College of Business and Economics, West Virginia University

Many forensic laboratories around the world have been experiencing declines in trace analysis in recent years. These declines may be observed as a lower demand for trace analysis, a reduction of resources (staffing or funding) allocated toward trace analysis, or worse, the shutdown of a trace analysis section. Project FORESIGHT was developed to identify trends across forensic laboratories by providing laboratory managers the data they need to reallocate resources and address inefficiencies. Project FORESIGHT participants represent a variety of international forensic laboratories who serve national, state, regional, or metropolitan populations. We examined Project FORESIGHT data from 2014 to 2020 to quantify recent declines in trace analysis where trace analysis is defined as paint, glass, hair, fiber, explosive, fire debris, and gunshot residue analysis. Quantifying declines may represent the first step toward reversing downward trends and achieving long-term sustainable growth in trace analysis.

A Rare 1972 Marilyn Monroe Photo Book: Genuine or Fabrication?
Joseph Barabe (presenting author) — Barabe & Associates LLC
Walter Rantanen — SGS Integrated Paper Services
Patricia Fisher — Fisher Document Laboratory

A winery that used a different photo of Marilyn Monroe for each vintage of its Marilyn Merlot was named as a defendant in a copyright dispute. The defendant claimed that the photo was taken by Takashi Oyama and that the image in question was from a book of photographs of Monroe that was published in 1972. The plaintiff, the son of photographer Carl Perutz, claimed that his father had photographed Marilyn Monroe in 1958 and that the questioned photo was from that session. The evidence was the book itself. Microscopical examination of the document included printing process identification and the history of introduction of several printing processes. Analysis of the paper substrate was also instrumental in determining its probable date of manufacture. A brief timeline for printing process commercial availability will also be presented.

Is it a Van Gogh? Microanalysis of Pigments to Establish Artwork Provenance
Katie M. White (presenting author) and Christopher S. Palenik — Microtrace LLC
As you’re walking through the thrift store or browsing an estate sale, a painting catches your eye and you wonder: could this be the lost work of a famous artist? For the curious art collector, analytical testing of the work can provide factual evidence that can help to establish provenance and lend support to potential claims. In the case of well-known artists, their pigment palette has often been studied and reported in the literature. If this information is not known, pigment identification can help to constrain the timeframe in which the work may have been created. Given the potential value of some artworks, it is imperative that the analytical methods chosen provide confident results, while also being minimally destructive.

This presentation emphasizes the valuable information that can be derived from a small particle of paint, with case examples used to illustrate the type of information that can be obtained. Polarized light microscopy, Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy, and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy each contribute to the pigment identity and ultimate interpretation.

Development of Microscopical Methods for the Systematic Analysis of Chemically Reacted, Improvised Low Explosives, and Related Residues: Project Update II
Meggan King Dempsey — McCrone Research Institute
In January of 2020, McCrone Research Institute began a research project to use a microscopical approach to investigate the particles and residues resulting from a controlled burning and ashing of low explosives and related materials. One goal is to improve the comparison and analysis of unreacted, chemically reacted, and post-blast related residues and increase the overall understanding of the process and mechanism that may result in the inability to obtain analytical results from evidence. Careful laboratory techniques have improved the success of historically challenging microchemical tests. Useful spot tests have also been identified, and detailed photomicrographs are still being collected. A simple confirmatory test for urea will be discussed. This presentation will also detail current progress and the remaining steps for project completion. This project was supported by Award No. NIJ-2019-DU-BX-0047, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

View Presentations for Wednesday, June 14