Interns use FVSU’s newest technology to solve crimes

Summer marks the beginning of reunions, picnics, vacations, camps, and sun-filled outdoor activities. Two students decided to spend their summer studying the latest techniques used to solve crimes inside Fort Valley State University’s criminology lab.

In June 2016, Shannon James, an FVSU biology student, and Houston County High School student Tayler Palmer interned for Seema Dhir, an assistant professor of biology at FVSU. The students learned to collect shoe impressions that help law enforcement officers identify persons of interest in criminal cases using footprint and fingerprint analysis software and crime lite.

The new software and internships resulted from a $287,000 National Science Foundation Historically Black College and Universities-Undergraduate Program Targeted Infusion Projects (NSF HBCU-Up TIP) grant. Targeted Infusion Projects (TIP) provides support to achieve a short-term, well-defined goal for improving the quality of undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at HBCUs.

Professor Dhir uses Shoeprint Image Capture and Retrieval Database (SICAR) to identify the make and size of shoes. The database uses sole pattern coding techniques to characterize full or partial shoe prints.

“SICAR is what crime labs use for shoe detection,” Dhir said. “It has more than 36,000 shoe imprints that we can use to drill down to one shoe.”

James and Palmer used small amounts of charcoal and talcum powder to uncover each shoe print. Afterward, they photographed impressions and compared them with the SICAR database to find possible matches.

“Crime scene investigators use white lights (and powder) to see shoe impression details,” James said. “The footprints are very crucial, because they will place a suspect at the scene of a crime.”

Besides finding imprints, Palmer and James also learned to make casts of shoe prints using molding materials.

Tayler Palmer, an upcoming senior at Houston County High School in Warner Robins, expressed an interest in working in a crime lab, and contacted Professor Seema Dhir. Palmer stated “I like the hands on experience. My favorite part is learning the technology.”

Dr. Mark Melton, an external evaluator and dean of St. Augustine’s University School of Sciences, Mathematics and Public Health , toured FVSU’s crime lab facility and met with Dhir’s summer interns.

“It is a requirement for grants to have an external evaluator visit and assess the progress of programs to determine if they’ve met their goals,” Melton said. “I’ve been here on several occasions, and the students seem to be engaged and excited about what they’re doing in this hands-on, inquiry-based learning environment. I’ve known the Dhir’s for a while, and they have a passion for student success here at FVSU.”

During a visit from Dr. Uppinder Mehan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, both students demonstrated how SICAR works in a crime-lab setting.

After James earns a bachelor’s degree in 2017, she wants to become a crime scene investigator. Palmer will graduate high school in 2017, and hopes to become a forensic anthropologist in the future.

The forensic science concentration is offered in collaboration with the biology program. Major area courses are selected from biology, zoology and botany. For details about forensics, contact Seema Dhir, (478) 825-6849 or


Palmer James Crime Lab Dhir

Seema Dhir (left), FVSU professor of biology, demonstrates proper crime lite technique to (L to R) Dr. Mark Melton, an external evaluator and dean of St. Augustine’s University School of Sciences; Dr. Uppinder Mehan, College of Arts and Sciences dean; and summer interns Shannon James, senior biology student, and Tayler Palmer, Houston County High school senior.