WCU forensic research showcased at national meeting

Forensic research taking place at Western Carolina University played a prominent role in presentations given at the recent annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Seattle.

The presentations also included a number of collaborations involving current WCU faculty members and current and former WCU students.


“Confirmatory Identification and Genotyping of Human Seminal Fluid Collected on Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering-Active Forensic Evidence Swabs” – presented by David D. Evanoff Jr., head and associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, and Brittania J. Bintz, a WCU alumna and research scientist with the Forensic Science Program. Contributing authors included Katarina G. Ruehl, a WCU alumna and current graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, and Geraldine Monjardez, research scientist in the WCU Department of Chemistry and Physics.

“The Current State of Anthropology as a Profession” – presented byNicholas V. Passalacqua, program coordinator and assistant professor in the Forensic Anthropology Program. A contributing author was Marin A. Pilloud of the University of Reno, Nevada.

“From the Ashes: Genetic Identification of Burned or Cremated Human Skeletal Remains” – presented by Kelly S. Grisedale, program coordinator and assistant professor in the Forensic Science Program. Contributing authors were Bintz and Maureen Hickman, a WCU alumna and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Biology.

“Group Experiential Learning in the Forensic Science Classroom” – presented by John A. Williams, WCU professor of forensic anthropology.

Workshop Presentation

“Directed Experimentation” – presented by Williams.


“The Limits of Detection of Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy-Active Swabs Used to Screen for Human Bodily Fluids” – presented by Monjardez. Contributing authors were Bintz, Ruehl and Evanoff.

“Probing Potential Interferences in DNA Extraction of Semen Collected on Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy-Active Forensic Evidence Swabs” – presented by Ruehl. Contributing authors were Bintz, Monjardez and Evanoff.

“Sensitivity Comparison of the Illumina ForenSeq DNA Signature Prep kit and the Applied Biosystem GlobalFilerkit” – presented by Ashlee Volk, an undergraduate student in forensic science and biology at WCU. Contributing authors were Bintz and Grisedale.

“A Comparison of Extraction Methods for Isolation of DNA from Latent Fingerprints” – presented by Elizabeth Bollman, an undergraduate student in forensic science at WCU. Contributing authors were Bintz and Grisedale.

“Evaluation of Automated and Manual DNA Extraction from Single Hind Legs of Aged Anopheles crucians Mosquito Specimens Implications in Forensic Entomology” – presented by Madison S. Rost, an undergraduate student in forensic science at WCU. Contributing authors were Bintz, Grisedale and Brian D. Byrd, WCU associate professor of environmental health.

“The Recovery of the Mitochondrial Genome from Cremated Human Remains” – presented by Hickman. Contributing authors were Grisedale and Mark R. Wilson, founder and CEO of MRW Analytics.

“Development of a pre-sequencing Body Fluid Identification Workflow for MinION Nanopore Sequencing” – presented by Mary Jessamine Michaels, graduate student in the WCU Department of Biology. Contributing authors were Bintz and Grisedale.

Presentations with WCU Alumni

“Assessing Alternative Polymerases for Amplifying Mitochondrial DNA From Shed Hairs” – a poster presentedby Natalie Damaso, post-doctoral visiting scientist at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education/FBI Laboratory. Contributing authors were Emily Ashe, a WCU biology alumna who is back at the university working on her master’s degree in biology after serving as a visiting scientist in the Counterterrorism and Forensic Science Research Unit at the FBI; Kelly A. Meiklejohn, assistant professor of forensic science at N.C. State University; and Mark F. Kavlick and James M. Robertson, research biologists with the FBI.

“A Different Kind of DNA Casework: When it has Antlers” – a talk presented by Brandt G. Cassidy, director of laboratory operations at DNA Solutions in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Contributing authors were DNA Solutions staff members James Anstead, Kelsy Lowther, Erica Reynaga, Elizabeth O’Bannon, Christina Lindquist and Sherri Deaton. Deaton earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology at WCU and is currently a DNA analyst and quality control specialist for the company.

“Forensic Biology Under the Microscope” – a talk presented by Cassidy. Contributing authors were Anstead, Lowther, Reynaga, O’Bannon and Deaton.

“The Application of the Megyesi Method and Improved Total Body Scores and Accumulated Degree Days Equations to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York Cases” – a poster presented by Paige A. Lynch, a graduate student in the Department of Applied Forensic Sciences at Mercyhurst University, and Audrey Constantino, who earned bachelor’s degrees in forensic anthropology and English at WCU and is now completing her master’s degree in forensic and biological anthropology at Mercyhurst. Contributing authors were Mercyhurst students Dorianis Perez and Rhian Dunn along with Mercyhurst forensic science faculty member Luis L. Cabo.

“Macromorphoscopic Traits: Data Collection and Analysis” – a workshop presented by WCU alumnus Joseph T. Hefner, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Michigan State University. Hefner earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology at WCU and later received his master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology at the University of Florida. He is a board-certified forensic anthropologist and recently co-authored at textbook titled “Visual Atlas of Macromorphoscopic Traits” that will be published in May. Contributing authors were Michigan State doctoral students Kelly R. Kamnikar and Amber M. Plemons.

“Age-Cohort Categorization and Multi-Factorial Age Estimation in Machine Learning Environments” – a talk presented by Hefner. A contributing author was WCU’s Nicholas V. Passalacqua.