Dennis Hilliard could have kept plenty busy during the three decades of his career focusing only on examining crime scene evidence for Rhode Island’s police departments and the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
Instead, Hilliard, now in his 24th year as director of the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory at URI, helped found one of the University’s oldest cross-disciplinary partnerships, and its accompanying lecture series, served as president of the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists, and coordinated a URI study on big league baseballs that garnered national attention. He continues to run schools for law enforcement agencies each fall and spring semester. Most recently, he was named to a subcommittee of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to study and recommend changes to forensic standards for federal laboratories.
And in case you think Hilliard confines his work to the Kingston campus and the law enforcement community, he also volunteers for the URI Speakers Bureau, giving more than 20 talks each year, making him the most popular lecturer around the state.
But establishing the Forensic Science Partnership with colleagues Jimmie Oxley and Everett Crisman in 1999 was probably his biggest idea, as it has led to URI being recognized internationally as a leader in forensic science research. That 15-year-old baseball study, led by Hilliard, showed the general public how partnerships in science could be more effective than academic departments operating in isolation. Researchers from URI’s textiles, chemistry, chemical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and the crime laboratory were able to prove that baseballs from 1995 and 2000 were livelier than ones from the 1960s and 1970s. That collaboration continues today and now includes the Department of Computer Science, thanks to Hilliard’s encouragement.