The American Society of Trace Evidence Examiners (ASTEE)
I remember sitting in the audience at the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists annual meeting in 2009 and listening to Vinny Desiderio give a presentation about a new organization being formed that was meant specifically for trace evidence examiners. His enthusiasm was obvious as he spoke about the need for us to band together and provide a platform for our discipline, encourage the exchange of ideas, and promote research and training. I was very excited to fill out my application as a charter member, and I’m honored to serve as president in 2018. I believe that this society has exceeded expectations, both in the size of its membership and its footprint on the trace community.
I want to thank outgoing president Amy Michaud for her hard work and dedication last year, as well as the entire Board of Directors: Treasurer Chad Schennum, Secretary Emily Weber, Directors Michelle Drake, Robyn Weimer, and Daniel Mabel, and Executive Secretary Katie Igowsky. I’d also like to extend a hearty welcome to Micheal Villarreal. He will assume the Director seat vacated by Robyn, who in turn is now jumping into the President-elect position. There are also a number of committee members who perform a lot of behind-the-scenes work and deserve some recognition. Allyson Karr constitutes the entire Events Committee, and does an excellent job organizing ASTEE networking events during various conferences (and hasn’t had a flop yet!). Lisa Schwenk heads the Membership Committee, and is currently working on an updated membership application form. Celeste Grover, along with the entire Bylaws Committee, has tirelessly and patiently combed through the ASTEE Bylaws and Administrative Rules to give the Board recommendations for changes. This is a slow process that we are hoping to complete in the coming months. Michelle Drake chairs the Awards Committee, and would like to remind everyone to start thinking about nominations for the Locard Award: please consider honoring an esteemed mentor or colleague who has made an impact in our field. Daniel Mabel is the Communications Committee, and it is thanks to him that ASTEE’s emails are timely and efficient. Jeff Dake lords over the Education Committee, which has lots of great ideas for future workshops, including one specifically geared towards statistics. Katie Igowsky leads the Elections Committee, Kim Mooney the Mentorship Committee, and Dana Greely the Research Committee. Kiersten LaPorte is the newly-crowned Publications Committee chair, while Jeremy Morris has agreed to be the new editor of the Journal of the American Society of Trace Evidence Examiners. These are both big tasks, and I know that they are in very capable hands. Thank you to all the committee members who dedicate their time and talents to make ASTEE the thriving organization it is today.
The first big trace-relevant meeting of the year, the Impression, Pattern, and Trace Evidence Symposium (IPTES), was conducted 22-25 January 2018 in Arlington, Virginia, with some excellent talks and workshops. ASTEE hosted an evening reception, during which Diana Wright was presented with the 2017 Edmond Locard Award. Her award was well-deserved – big congratulations to Diana!
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting is being held 19-24 February 2018 on the other side of the country in Seattle, Washington. This meeting always draws a large crowd of attendees in every forensic science discipline, and I see some excellent trace-centric topics on the program. Hopefully ASTEE members who can’t attend IPTES will be able to represent our trace community in Seattle.
Because the first decade of my forensic science career was spent teaching microscopy at McCrone Research Institute, education and training is very important to me. There are training opportunities outside of conference workshops that are available. One is “Fire Debris Analysis for the Forensic Chemist,” 23-26 July 2018. Course information and an application can be found on the ASTEE website. It is offered by the ATF, and as such, tuition is free!
While formal training is essential, I want to remind everyone that knowledge is also gleaned while practicing one’s trade. And the field of trace evidence analysis certainly takes practice: Practice to accurately estimate a particle’s refractive index based on its contrast and Becke line movement in a particular mounting medium. Practice to know when a sample is too thick to give a good infrared spectrum (before even collecting said spectrum) and will therefore need to be pressed thinner. Practice to be able to cut a nice cross-section of a fiber by hand faster than with a microtome. And to that end, with New Year’s resolutions as a recent topic, I encourage all of you to truly practice your trade. It could be as simple as broadening your microscopical horizons by mounting a piece of your lunch on a slide and taking a look. (Have you ever looked a cross-section of a black bean? The testa (outer layer) has beautiful parallel palisade cells arranged neatly. And the starch grains are present as clusters within little rounded pockets. Cross the polars and behold the beauty! Cut a thin piece from an avocado pit and look at that through the microscope. You’re in for a treat!) Or you could start your own personal materials collection, including various items you see in your field from time to time. This includes not only the usual fibers, paint, and glass, but consider other possibilities as they present themselves: Did you break a tooth? Excellent! Keep it, look at the decaying part under the microscope and compare that to a pristine, healthy area. Were you in a car accident where the airbags deployed? Great! Collect samples from your clothing to examine for propellent and airbag dust particles. And if you read about an interesting new fiber in a magazine, contact the manufacturer to ask for a sample. Often this leads to nothing, but you may get lucky and receive a traceable, authentic, straight-from-the-factory-floor exemplar, which is more valuable than its weight in gold in our world. My point is that as trace evidence analysts, we could be asked to identify literally anything. This task becomes much easier and more enjoyable if we have practiced our trade. And we may even get a nice picture out of it.