July 13, 2015 – Three Fort Valley State University senior biology students are spending their summer designing and conducting individual forensics research projects thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation. The eight-week Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates began this June and will conclude in July for students Shannon James, Miciah Lyons and Reginald Mims.
The trio were selected based on their outstanding performance in the classroom and their motivation for scientific research in forensics.
According to Dr. Seema Dhir, an FVSU assistant professor of biology, all biology majors at the university are required to complete a summer research experience before they graduate from the program. Dhir says the young people will learn basic forensic techniques – like analyzing hair and other physical evidence– that supplement evidence for DNA findings in criminal cases. Dhir said these techniques can also help examiners to individualize bodies that are heavily damaged and unidentifiable.
Dhir encouraged her students to design their own research projects.
“I don’t believe in spoon feeding my students knowledge,” Dhir said. “To conduct summer research, you have to stay on top of it at all times. It requires lots of self-motivation and study. I’m here to guide them, but I’m not here to do their work for them. They have to conduct independent work and collect data, themselves.”
At the outset of the project, James, Lyons and Mims began researching topics in forensics and narrowed their topic of interest. Later, they collected and read peer-reviewed literature, then designed a plan for their projects. Currently, students are analyzing their samples through comparison and polarizing microscopes and collecting data inside of Dhir’s newly acquired lab within FVSU’s Academic Laboratory and Classroom Building.
Lyons, a 22-year old Atlanta, Ga. native, desires to become a physician’s assistant. “You have to dedicate the time to get the information and conduct the research,” she said.
Mims said that the summer research experience has given him a greater appreciation of forensics study techniques.
“I used to watch my mother watch CSI, and I didn’t like the show much,” the 22-year-old Bainbridge, Ga. native said. “Now, I know the real science behind the techniques, and see what it’s like to conduct research in real life, and my opinion’s changed about forensic science.”
For James, a 22-year-old senior biology major, the research experience has ignited her desire to continue pursuing forensics research. The Fort Valley, Ga. native has learned that it is important to be passionate about the topic you are researching to remain motivated to complete the project. For her project, James is writing a manuscript for her research and has captured photomicrographs depicting unique morphological features of a variety of hair samples and conducted data analysis. She said the STEM project has sharpened her skills as a scientific researcher.
“There is a lot of data to keep up with and organize,” she explained the project has taught her to keep copious notes in her daily logs. “You have to be very detailed, so that any point in time, if you run into an error, you can backtrack and see where it was committed, and who was responsible. It is easier to correct yourself, if you have documentation in the charts and notebooks we keep daily.”
After their summer research ends, all three students will have to present their findings during an oral presentation at a scientific conference.
James believes the support and mentoring she has received from Dhir has been beneficial.
“I feel that Mrs. Dhir has been a good mentor,” she said. “If we ever needed items – like tools and software – for our research, she has always provided it. She’s always there when we’ve needed her.”
For more information, contact Dhir at (478) 825-6849 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured: Senior biology students Shannon James (left) and Reginald Mims (right) conduct forensics research inside of a Academic and Classroom Laboratory lab.
Christina D. Milton, public relations specialist
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