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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Forensic Science Partnership gaining strength, extending reach in fifth year

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 14, 2004 -- It began in the spring of 1999 with a goal of bringing together the University of Rhode IslandŐs top scientists for the fight against crime. Five years later the URI Forensic Science Partnership has: Established a forensic science minor, extended its reach to help in the fight against terrorism, and brought more than 100 forensic science experts to the Kingston Campus to lecture on everything from the O.J. Simpson murder trial to the investigation of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers.

The partnership, established with $150,000 each year for three years in seed money, is one of several at URI designed to stimulate research and excellence across college and department boundaries and to bolster the UniversityŐs efforts to attract external public and private funding to work on some of societyŐs most pressing problems.

The Forensic Science Partnership faculty members have been involved in research on pipe bombs, the weapon of choice for terrorists; breath devices that measure driversŐ alcohol levels; major league baseballs and the relationship between changing materials and increasing home run production; and criminal investigations relating to paint chip and fiber analysis.

"When we talk with prospective students, there is a huge demand for forensic science," said Associate Professor of Chemistry Jimmie Oxley, a co-director of the partnership along with Dennis Hilliard, director of the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory at URI and adjunct professor of biomedical sciences, and Everett E. Crisman, assistant professor of chemical engineering.

To meet that demand, the partnership has run its highly successful free public lecture series and offered four new courses for those pursuing the minor: Introduction to Explosives, Introduction to Criminalistics, which focuses on physical evidence gathering, including fingerprints, paint chips, and blood spatter; Computer Forensics, and Forensic Microscopy.

To complete the minor, students must take 18 credits outside their major, the one-credit seminar series for two semesters and an 8-credit practicum.
"We get a call or an email every day about the minor or the lecture series," Hilliard said. "ItŐs safe to say that every student enrolled in the lecture series is pursuing a forensic science minor."

The hope at the outset of the partnershipŐs work was that such courses would form the foundation for a masterŐs program. Hilliard said the team is working to develop the resources for such a program, which would make URI the first public university in New England to offer this type of degree.

Meanwhile, Oxley is working on a proposed bachelorŐs degree in forensic chemistry.

"There is great interest in both a masterŐs and a bachelorŐs program," Hilliard said. "There are those with undergraduate degrees who are working in medical, chemical and pharmaceutical fields who want a graduate degree in forensic science."

In addition, Hilliard and Oxley have lectured and consulted throughout the country on their work. Early in the partnershipŐs history, Oxley organized a course for 800 Iowa law enforcement and school officials on how to handle school bomb threats in the wake of the student attacks in Columbine, Colo.

URI continues to offer a course in explosives twice a year for government officials and government contractors.

Last fall, Oxley served as a consultant to the hit CBS show CSI for her expertise in explosives, energetic materials and pyrotechnics.

In 2001, Hilliard lectured members of a rules committee of the National Federation of State and High School Baseball Associations in Indianapolis to discuss the partnershipŐs research on lively major league baseballs.

In June of 2002, five members of the partnership participated in the Lively Ball Colloquium as part of a conference run by the Society for American Baseball Research June 27 through 30 in Boston.

In addition, of the URI experts who participate in the UniversityŐs Speakers Bureau, Hilliard is the most requested lecturer. He has made 40 presentations to community groups in the past two years.

When the University held an open house in the fall of 2001 at its Sensors and Surface Technology laboratory at the College of Engineering, most major news outlet in Rhode Island covered the presentation by Chemical Engineering Professor Otto Gregory, director of the Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership and member of the forensic science group.

Thanks to the combined efforts of scientists in the sensors and forensic science partnerships, URI has assembled one of the most advanced labs in the region for analysis of gunshot residue, trace evidence, pipe bombs, paint chips, textile fibers and blood spatters. The scientists are also pooling technology and brainpower to develop new tools for preventing terrorism, including bioterrorism.

For Further Information: Dennis Hilliard 401-874-2896, Jimmie Oxley 401-874-2103