Monday, October 22, 2012

Forensic News Blog Relaunch

This blog was originally created in 2006 as a way for participating forensic scientists to post links to interesting stories about forensic science.  Although the frequency of our University of Alabama at Birmingham blogging team never reached the level of daily or weekly posts, the blog did become a useful tool for forensic science students at UAB to discuss forensic science by posting links to news stories or contributing to the comments. 

In 2012, readers searching for forensic science content now have many more ways to find relevant material.  Organized blogs devoted to forensic science have appeared that post both links and original content.  Organizations have twitter accounts and Facebook pages that make reaching readers much easier than in RSS days.

At UAB, the Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research  has recently launched a web page highlighting our research activities.  With this launch, this blog will also make a relaunch of its own, with our focus shifting to include information about original research being conducted at UAB.

If you would like to follow our posts, you can subscribe to this blog.  Links will also be sent out via twitter, right now through the MSFS Program Director's account @jasonlinville.  A new twitter account or facebook page may be right around the corner.  For now, you'll just have to like us privately.


Monday, September 20, 2010

New DNA Evidence May Exonerate Convicted Murderer

by jnr

DNA analysis can either be a sharp sword for prosecuting attorneys or a strong shield for the accused, but can it be relied upon too much?

Investigators have found new DNA evidence in the murder of Peggy Hettrick, a case that was considered closed until genetic evidence freed a man who spent 10 years in prison, according to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.

The "touch DNA" tests weren't available in the late 1990s. Timothy Masters was convicted of murder in Hettrick's death in 1999, but his conviction was overturned in 2008 after defense lawyers used advanced DNA testing to uncover evidence suggesting a different suspect.

The new evidence was taken from Hettrick's clothing. "We have done 'touch DNA,' and I think it has moved the ball forward. We will know more in the future," Suthers said. He wouldn't say whose DNA was found or identify the clothing on which it was found.

Masters has not been exonerated in the case and remains a suspect.

"While we are not in a position to exonerate Tim at this time, I emphasize that he is presumed innocent and is no more a suspect than a variety of other people," Suthers said.

"A variety of other people"? I would like to know what evidence was presented at trial that led to the conviction of Masters, and if this new DNA evidence refutes it. Does the presence of a DNA profile on the clothing of the victim that does not match the defendant prove his innocence? Only if you can prove that only the killer placed his DNA upon the item. Good luck with that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Method for Recovering Difficult Fingerprints

by blogger ic

It's already difficult to obtain good fingerprints at a crime scene. In most cases, mostly partials will be found. In cases where there was some type of explosion or fire, other methods like this chemical method could be very helpful not just in recovering the print but also to find out some information on who the suspect could be.

"The body chemistry of the person who left the fingerprint can tell us some things," said Shaler. "If the suspect is older or younger or a lactating mother, for example."

The researchers used a form of physical vapor deposition -- a method that uses a vacuum and allows vaporized materials to condense on a surface creating a thin film. Normally, the deposition process requires exceptionally clean surfaces because any speck of dust or grease on the coated surface shows up as a deformity. However, with fingerprints, the point is to have the surface material's ridges and valleys -- topography -- show up on the new surface so analysts can read them using an optical device without the necessity of chemical development or microscopy.

"This approach allows us to look at the topography better and to look at the chemistry later," said Shaler. "We wouldn't have thought of this by ourselves, but we could do it together."

One benefit of this approach would be the ability to retrieve fingerprints off fragments from incendiary or explosive devices and still be able to analyze the chemicals used in the device.

The specific method used is a conformal-evaporated-film-by-rotation technique developed to create highly accurate copies of biological templates such as insect eyes or butterfly wings. Both are surfaces that have nanoscale variations.

"It is a very simple process," said Lakhtakia. "And fingerprints are not nanoscale objects, so the conformal coating is applied to something big by nanotechnology standards."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bacterial DNA Used to Identify You!

by blogger cfl

As you may know, your skin has "normal flora" bacteria living on it. This bacteria is beneficial to your health, but may also be used to identify you, according to emerging research. Scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder are developing a method to identify individuals based on the unique bacteria found on their hands. When the amount of human DNA is too small to detect, bacterial DNA could be used in its place. Bacteria can be collected directly from hands or even touched surfaces and the DNA can be sequenced just like human DNA. The scientists found that very few bacteria were shared among test subjects. Even identical twins have different colonies of bacteria on their hands! Bacteria remain on our hands no matter how many times we wash them, so why not use them?

Could forensic scientists become forensic microbiologists within a few years?

..."Each one of us leaves a unique trail of bugs behind as we travel through our daily lives," said Fierer, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department.
....unless there is blood, tissue, semen or saliva on an object, it's often difficult to obtain sufficient human DNA for forensic identification, said Fierer. But given the abundance of bacterial cells on the skin surface, it may be easier to recover bacterial DNA than human DNA from touched surfaces, they said. "Our technique could provide another independent line of evidence."
...The new technique would even be useful for identifying objects touched by identical twins, since they share identical DNA but they have different bacterial communities on their hands.

Who knew that the bacteria we try to avoid at all costs could become a type of forensic evidence?

Illinois Law Requires Testing All Rape Kits to End Backlog

by blogger gbq

An Illinois law now requires police to test all rape kits since the state has a backlog of thousands of untested rape kits. This new law will help to catch sex offenders and put them behind bars. Illinois is not the only state with a backlog problem. Cities in Michigan and Texas reportedly have thousands of untested rape kits as well. Should this law have been implemented a long time ago? Should all states implement this new law?

"On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch released a report showing that since 1995, only about 20 percent of rape kits, which contain physical evidence obtained from victims, could be confirmed as having been tested in Illinois. More than 4,000 kits had gone untested, the report found."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Former Hacker Teaches Law Enforcement About iPhone Evidence

by blogger JAW

Today's phones, such as the iPhone contain a plethora of information about individuals and their activities. For criminals this can include incriminating emails, phone calls and potentially even location data. The current issue is many Law Enforcement agencies are not up to date on the ability to collect these key pieces of evidence. As the iPhone market began to mature, former hacker Jonathan Zdziarski began with a small how-to manual that eventually became a full book on how to extract pertinent information.

Law-enforcement experts said iPhone technology records a wealth of information that can be tapped more easily than BlackBerry and Droid devices to help police learn where you've been, what you were doing there and whether you've got something to hide.

Hips Don't Lie... in Sex Determination of Skeletal Remains

by blogger klv

Typically, forensic scientists have used the pelvic bone to determine the sex of skeletal remains. Though widely accepted, the technique has many limitations. Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new technique that is accurate and quantifiable.

The researchers found more than 20 anatomical "landmarks" on the os coxa that can be used to determine a body's sex. Finding so many landmarks is important, Ross says, because it means that the sex of a body can be ascertained even if only a small fragment of the pelvis can be found. In other words, even if only 15 percent of the pelvis is recovered, it is likely that at least a few of the landmarks can be found on that fragment.

Here's how it would work: a forensic scientist would use a digitizer to create a 3-D map of the pelvic fragment and measure the relevant anatomical landmarks. The scientist could then determine the sex of the remains by comparing those measurements to the measurements listed in the paper by Bytheway and Ross.

Hackers Steal Close to $1 Million From UVA Wise

by blogger jrb

Brian Krebs broke this story concerning the theft of $996,000 from UVA Wise using a fraudulent wire transfer. The hackers were able to gain access to the university's bank account by infecting the comptroller's computer with malicious software. These kinds of targeted attacks have been happening quite frequently to small to medium sized companies, universities, and not for profit organizations. Brian Krebs has wrote about 43 high profile attacks this year alone. Attacks like these are netting hackers more than bank robbers while greatly reducing the risk of being caught. The current numbers of computer forensic personnel are inadequate to deal with this growing crime.

Kathy Still, director of news and media relations at UVA Wise, declined to offer specifics on the theft, saying only that the school was investigating a hacking incident.

“All I can say now is we have a possible computer hacking situation under investigation,” Still said. “I can also tell you that as far as we can tell, no student data has been compromised.”

According to several sources familiar with the case, thieves stole the funds after compromising a computer belonging to the university’s comptroller. The attackers used a computer virus to steal the online banking credentials for the University’s accounts at BB&T Bank, and initiated a single fraudulent wire transfer in the amount of $996,000 to the Agricultural Bank of China. BB&T declined to comment for this story.

A Yellow Light to DNA Familial Searches

by arg

A serial killer nicknamed the "Grim Sleeper" was caught after a familial DNA search was completed, but now there is controversy about whether this type of search should be done because it could raise privacy and civil liberty issues if it is not properly controlled.

In the case of the serial killer nicknamed the “Grim Sleeper,” DNA samples he left at several crime scenes were a close partial match to Christopher Franklin, who was in a California prison on a weapons conviction. Investigators could tell that the killer had to be a close relative of Mr. Franklin and narrowed it down to his father, Lonnie Franklin Jr., after they found the father’s DNA in saliva on a discarded slice of pizza. Lonnie Franklin Jr. was charged with 10 counts of murder.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Arizona Morgue Has Too Many Bodies

by bma

A morgue in Arizona grows crowded with bodies of those who have attempted to cross hundreds of mile of desert during the hot summer months. The Morgue has no where to store the bodies of the unidentified illegal immigrant and has to rent a refigerated truck to store the extra bodies. This begs the question...why is Arizona law enforecemnt done nothing to prevent this?.

Dr. Bruce Parks unzips a white body bag on a steel gurney and gingerly lifts out a human skull and mandible, turning them over in his hands and examining the few teeth still in their sockets.
The body bag, coated with dust, also contains a broken pelvis, a femur and a few smaller bones found in the desert in June, along with a pair of white sneakers.
“These are people who are probably not going to be identified,” said Dr. Parks, the chief medical examiner for Pima County. There are eight other body bags crowded on the gurney.
The Pima County morgue is running out of space as the number of Latin American immigrants found dead in the deserts around Tucson has soared this year during a heat wave.
The rise in deaths comes as Arizona is embroiled in a bitter legal battle over a new law intended to discourage illegal immigrants from settling here by making it a state crime for them to live or seek work.
But the law has not kept the immigrants from trying to cross hundreds of miles of desert on foot in record-breaking heat. The bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years.
Since the first of the year, more than 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead, well above the 107 discovered during the same period in each of the last two years. The sudden spike in deaths has overwhelmed investigators and pathologists at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. Two weeks ago, Dr. Parks was forced to bring in a refrigerated truck to store the remains of two dozen people because the building’s two units were full.
“We can store about 200 full-sized individuals, but we have over 300 people here now, and most of those are border crossers,” Dr. Parks said. “We keep hoping we have seen the worst of this, of these migration deaths. Yet we still see a lot of remains.”
The increase in deaths has happened despite many signs that the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has dropped in recent years. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the frontier without a visa has fallen in each of the last five years and stands at about half of the record 616,000 arrested in 2000.
Not only has the economic downturn in the United States eliminated many of the jobs that used to lure immigrants, human rights groups say, but also the federal government has stepped up efforts to stop the underground railroad of migrants, building mammoth fences in several border towns and flooding the region with hundreds of new Border Patrol agents equipped with high-tech surveillance tools.
These tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road.
“As we gain more control, the smugglers are taking people out to even more remote areas,” said Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “They have further to walk and they are less prepared for the journey, and they don’t make it.”
Mr. Candelaria said the surge in discoveries of bodies this year might also owe something to increased patrols. He noted that some of the remains found this year belong to people who died in previous years. But Dr. Parks said that could not account for the entire increase this year. Indeed, the majority of bodies brought in during July, Dr. Parks said, were dead less than a week.
Human rights groups say it is the government’s sustained crackdown on human smuggling that has led to more deaths.
“The more that you militarize the border, the more you push the migrant flows into more isolated and desolate areas, and people hurt or injured are just left behind,” said Kat Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Coalici√≥n de Derechos Humanos in Tucson.
At the medical examiner’s office in Tucson, Dr. Park’s team of five investigators, six pathologists and one forensic anthropologist face an enormous backlog of more than 150 unidentified remains, with one case going back as far as 2003.
Every day, they labor to match remains with descriptions provided by people who have called their office to report a missing relative, or with reports collected by human rights groups and by Mexican authorities.
Since 2000, Dr. Park’s office has handled more than 1,700 border-crossing cases, and officials here have managed to confirm the identities of about 1,050 of the remains.

Fingerprints Telling More

by blogger cbt

By using the MALDI-MSI technique, we can now get new details of the suspect that will help solve cases just from a fingerprint. The ability to do this will not only help solve cases but it can also answer unanswered questions about older cases.

The technique, under development by academics at the Biomedical Research Centre (BMRC) at Sheffield Hallam University, allows investigators to identify key details about suspects and can even be used to detect any substances they might have touched, such as traces of cocaine.

For the study, academics from Sheffield Hallam used matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI), which is a powerful technology normally used to map different molecules within tissue sections. For the study the technology was used, for the first time, to analyse and produce images of fingermarks. Simona Francese, from the University's BMRC, said: "Based on the results produced so far and the research currently undertaken we can say this technology can help gain much more information from a fingermark than is currently available. Using it, we could link the suspect to criminal activity and potentially even gain details of their lifestyle by detecting the use of drugs, medication and even diet. This is valuable information to a criminal investigation, particularly if the suspect's print is not on the criminal database."


Speedy DNA Testing

by kec

A new test is being developed to compare DNA from people arrested for crimes to DNA from crime scenes that are stored in databases. This test is being done in under four hours and enables the police to check the person's DNA while the suspect is still being processed.

Andrew Hopwood, Frederic Zenhausern, and colleagues explain that some criminals are arrested, spend less than a day in jail, and then commit crimes while they are out on bail. If police could quickly test the suspects' DNA, to see if their genetic material matches entries in crime databases, they may be able to keep the most dangerous people locked up. But currently, most genetic tests take 24-72 hours, and by the time that the results are back, the suspects often have been released...To increase the speed of forensic DNA testing, the scientists built a chip that can copy and analyze DNA samples taken from a cotton swab. Forensic technicians can collect DNA from suspects by swabbing their mouth, mixing the sample with a few chemicals, and warming it up. The DNA-testing-lab-on-a-chip does the rest. The entire process takes only four hours at present. Hopwood and Zenhausern teams are already optimizing it and reducing the cycle time down to two hours. Once that is done, police could even double-check their DNA evidence before releasing a suspect.

DNA catches the Green River Killer

by kjt

Just when the Green River Killer thought he could get away, DNA saved the day. "COLD CASE: CLOSED"

In the 1980s and 1990s, a faceless killer stalked young women in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Dozens of women, mostly prostitutes, eventually disappeared, sometimes only a few days apart, sometimes only once or twice a year. The killer had a consistent modus operandi: he would rape the women and strangle them with his hands or a ligature...The police compiled a short list of suspects, including Gary Ridgway, a factory worker. But DNA testing was still in its infancy in the 1990s, and since officers lacked enough physical evidence to tie Mr. Ridgway to the crimes, they were unable to arrest him...In 2001, a one-two technological punch brought the case back to life. Forensic investigators decided to re-examine evidence compiled years before with the help of two new modes of DNA analysis: the polymerase chain reaction (P.C.R.) test and the short tandem repeat (S.T.R.) test. Together, these tests proved indispensable because they allowed the scientists to sequence and copy very short fragments of DNA taken from crime scenes...After Dr. Himick and her colleagues completed new DNA profiles from three victims, they compared them with DNA extracted from a piece of gauze Mr. Ridgway had chewed on in 1987. Dr. Himick was floored: the DNA profiles taken from the victims matched .

The Cut-Free Autopsy

by blogger kjs

Scalpels. Bone saws. Lots and lots of gloves.

Those are the tools of the trade when you are an average medical examiner. It's not uncommon to extract bullets from gaping shotgun wounds or to dissect a brain to see how deep a knife wound might go. However, in this golden age of technology, hands-on autopsies may become obsolete thanks to the power of radiological imaging technology. The same instrument that can visualize a broke bone or heart arrhythmia may have the power to determine cause of death without ever opening up a body.

How is this possible?

Well, first of all, there is the issue of radioactive matter: how much can we expose a patient to? With a dead body, that issue is rendered negligible. Also, when a body has finished an autopsy it is sent to a mortuary. With virtual autopsies, data from the body can be stored in a database and the body never needed again in order to evaluate it! Other advantages include: time-saving, protecting religious practices, easier communication with jurors, and less risk of contracting diseases.

Disadvantages include the money needed to buy machines that could handle such procedures and the need for more developed procedures that could visualize bleeding patterns and portmortem gas.

As this becomes a developing issue in forensic technology, the author of the article had this to say:

As terrorists improve their applied technologies day by day, it is unthinkable that forensic pathologists should not also be able to make use of emerging technologies in order to gather as much information as possible from their victims... In times where no one can really feel safe, we should not only focus on the prevention of catastrophe, but also prepare ourselves to handle disasters adequately when they do occur.

Just a little food for thought!

Operation Swordphish

by blogger jel

Next month, the State of Alabama, in a joint effort with Gary Warner at UAB, will receive $3 million in federal funds to pursue cybercrimes that are too small to attract the attention of federal authorities. Fortunately, Warner's forensics lab is skilled in processing these crimes and often tying several of them together to show a much larger crime was actually committed. The State of Alabama is hoping other states will take notice of Alabama's success and model similar programs in their own states. Hopefully by years end, Warner and his graduate students will have already proved their worth several times over in the fight against cybercrime.

Warner's team, made up of graduate students and undergraduates studying computer forensics and justice science, has several tasks. First, there's the public component, including an effort to teach Alabama residents how to avoid cybercrimes, where to report them when they happen and how to avoid contaminating the crime scene -- that is, to save e-mails and other evidence.

Second, they'll work behind the scenes to train police and assist them when needed.

Third, and perhaps most critically, they'll gather all cybercrimes reported in the state -- and those reported federally that are referred to state agencies -- into a single database. Then they can analyze it to find common perpetrators and to determine which complaints or which categories of crime should take priority for investigation and for training.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dexter Copycat

by blogger orf

It is now common knowledge that the general American public has an obsession with forensic-based shows. CSI has been one of the top ranking shows for years. Unfortunately, a lot of the viewers of this show now consider themselves experts in the field of forensic science. Of course, this can cause all kinds of issues with juries and could even help educate criminals, but in this show, the criminal is always caught and the audience is left with an appreciation for both science and law enforcement.

Recently, another forensic show has been getting more media attention: Dexter. For those of you that aren't familiar with the show, Dexter is an expert blood analyst based in the Miami PD. Sounds pretty typical, but Dexter is also a serial killer who uses his knowledge and connections to get away with murder. In the series, the viewers watch Dexter feed his need to kill by murdering criminals who managed to slipped through the system. Most viewers actually end up rooting for Dexter, I know I do, but some people take it too far. There have been several accounts of people idolizing Dexter, many people saying they can relate to him. Recently, a boy in Indiana who is a fan of the show admitted to killing his brother and said he was inspired by Dexter. Hopefully, this will not become a trend.

An Indiana teen, who said strangling his little brother was like eating a great hamburger, pleaded guilty Monday to murder, according to The Associated Press. Anthony Conley, now 18, (right) admitted to authorities late last year that he was inspired by the television series about a serial killer, "Dexter."

Canine CODIS

by blogger nls

In 2009, the largest dog-fighting raid in US history occurred. This raid resulted in 26 arrests and involved over 400 dogs across seven states. In order to connect crimes scenes, a dog-fighting DNA database (Canine CODIS) was formed to find any correlation between bloodlines of all dogs seized in the raid. Showing blood relation between the dogs in different states aided in 17 guilty pleas, not necessarily showing that owners were connected, but giving the suggestion that there may have been common criminal activity. This shows great potential for animal forensics. The fact that dog-fighting is against the law in every state gives enough reason for the use of forensic analysis in such cases. After all, forensics is the application of science to the law.

Scientists and animal rights advocates have enlisted DNA evidence to do for man's best friend what the judicial system has long done for human crime victims. They have created the country's first dog-fighting DNA database, which they say will help criminal investigators piece together an abused animal's history by establishing ties among breeders, owners, pit operators, and the animals themselves.

"People are not generally going to the pound and buying pit bulls to fight-these dogs are from established bloodlines," said Tim Rickey senior director of field investigations and response for the American Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals. "And if a suspected dog fighter's animal matches one of those bloodlines, that would be a key piece of evidence."

This is very inspiring! Although it is unfortunate that we must learn the hard way, situations such as these give insight into the future and to what forensic science can provide to criminal cases. Dogs are indeed man's best friend and should be protected not only by law, but by the applications of science to those laws.

3rd Times the Charm

by SAM

Just to think, if DNA advancements were never made this case would have never gotten any closure. A case that was over 20 years old finally got solved using DNA that was not able to be used in the first two trials. It was a good thing that he was able to be called back to active duty and be tried, because if not he would have litterally gotten away with murder.

A soldier aquitted of three murders more than 20 years ago in civilian court was convicted by a military jury on Thursday because of DNA tests that were not available in the earlier trial. The soldier, Master Sgt. Timothy B. Hennis, 52, had been recalled to active service specifically to face the military court at Fort Bragg, N.C. He had initially been convicted of raping and murdering Kathryn Eastburn and killing her two young daughters in 1985 in Fayetteville, N.C. But the North Carolina Supreme Court called for a retrial, saying the testimony had been weak. That second trial, in 1989, ended in acquittal. In the years since then, DNA identification technology improved, and a subsequent test linked Mr. Hennis to Ms. Eastburn’s body. Mr. Hennis could not be tried again in state court under rules of double jeopardy, but could be tried by a military jury for the crime, which occurred while he was stationed at Fort Bragg. The military had taken up the case in 2006 after a cold-case detective at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office had materials from Ms. Eastburn’s autopsy tested for DNA and there was a match to Mr. Hennis, The Fayetteville Observer reported.

In this case he only got convicted again because he was able to be called back to active duty and tried in military court. Double jeopardy would have saved him if this was not the case. It seems like something should be done to prevent this from even being able to happen.

Blood or Ketchup

by blogger kbs

Apparently if you are a perfectionist that is never happy with anything but positive test results you belong at the North Carolina Crime Lab. After an FBI investigation it is been found to be withholding negative blood test results from attorneys. Just because the results are negative doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile.

The review found 230 cases in which eight SBI analysts filed reports that, at best, were incomplete. Of those, 190 resulted in criminal charges...Besides the executions, the report urged a closer look at the cases of four people on death row and one whose death sentence was commuted to life.

What confuses me the most is where do you get trained that your job is to solve as many cases and put as many people in jail even if there is no science to back it up? Kind of defeats the purpose of being a scientist doesn't it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guilt by Genetic Association

by blogger sjk

The controversial genetic analysis procedure called "familial searching" or "kinship searching" recently helped solve the "Grim Sleeper" case involving at least 10 serial murders dating back to 1985. "Familial searching" or "kinship searching" can compare DNA collected from a crime scene to DNA databases of both convicted felons and arrestees whose DNA partially matches the unidentified suspect. In the "Grim Sleeper" case, DNA taken from the suspect's son, who was arrested on a felony weapons charge, lead investigators to discover a partial DNA match to the crime scene DNA that was similar enough to show family relation. This type of DNA analysis can prove to be useful, but many believe it is an invasion of privacy. "Kinship searching" is widely used in England, allowing investigators to interview people whose DNA partially matches crime scene DNA, whether or not they are a suspect's family member or were involved with the crime. In the United States, CA is the only state to have a standard guideline model on how "kinship searching" can be used.

Some critics have contended that the technique might lead to an abuse of the system or, over time, to the disproportionate arrest of African-American males because they have a higher incarceration rate than men in other ethnic groups.

But the immediate concern is that kinship searches could produce a long list of convicted felons who are only partial matches to an unidentified suspect. The risk is that the police, while looking for a suspect’s family members, might intrude on people who have not committed a crime.

. . . .

“Our concern is that the initial comparison that generates a list of partial matches does not narrow it down to a single suspect’s likely family member,” says Peter Bibring, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California. “It’s a list and, at that point, the invasion of privacy depends on how the police go about their business.”

What do you think: Should “familial searching” or “kinship searching” become a standard investigative tool in the United States, with each state allowed to develop their own procedural guidelines, or should a national law be created for this possibly invasive suspect search tactic?

Friday, November 20, 2009

DNA Evidence Fabricated

by blogger hcn

UPDATE: I'm re-posting this. For those of you wondering, I think the linked to news story is the reason for the asinine storyline on this weeks SVU. -jl

I recently saw a series of segments on a news show questioning forensic science. After examining several areas of forensic science and questioning their validity, they made a statement that DNA evidence seems to be the only truly accurate evidence to link a person to a crime scene. According to a recent New York Times article, that may not be the case anymore. Scientists in Israel were able to fabricate blood and saliva samples with DNA from a person other than the donor.

The authors of the paper took blood from a woman and centrifuged it to remove the white cells, which contain DNA. To the remaining red cells they added DNA that had been amplified from a man’s hair. Since red cells do not contain DNA, all of the genetic material in the blood sample was from the man. The authors sent it to a leading American forensics laboratory, which analyzed it as if it were a normal sample of a man’s blood.

Obviously a person attempting to fake and plant DNA evidence would need a background in biology and DNA analysis techniques to pull this off. I think it's safe to say your average criminal won't be able to have access to the necessary equipment and the knowledge to do this, but it is an interesting new study.

NRC Report - Free

by blogger jgl

The NRC report on forensic science is now available for free. Previously, I think there was a charge to access the full report. The report can be accessed here.

This report provides some constructive criticism of the current state of forensic labs in the US. It's something that forensic scientists are talking about.

Recognizing that significant improvements are needed in forensic science, Congress directed the National Academy of Sciences to undertake the study that led to this report. There are scores of talented and dedicated people in the forensic science community, and the work that they perform is vitally important. They are often strapped in their work, however, for lack of adequate resources, sound policies, and national support. It is clear that change and advancements, both systemic and scientific, are needed in a number of forensic science disciplines—to ensure the reliability of the disciplines, establish enforceable standards, and promote best practices and their consistent application.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Company to Provide Forensic Services to Army

found by troym; comments by blogger jgl

Does anyone know how these contracts will work? Will these companies be hiring scientists to complete the work or just serving as a middle man sending the work through to already existing private labs?

In other words, will any forensic lab jobs be created/destroyed because of this?

American Systems Corp., Analytic Services Inc. and Ideal Innovations Inc., have won a multiple award contract to compete for approximately $145 million in task orders to provide forensic services to the Army...

...The support will cover the forensic disciplines of nuclear DNA, serology, forensic anthropology, digital evidence, forensic toxicology and forensic pathology, among others, according to a Sept. 28 announcement from American Systems.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hate Mail Analysis Challenges Public Assumptions

Sample of hate letters
by blogger SLC

Various locations and people throughout the United Kingdom, from simple mosques to the prime minister, have recently received letters containing scathing racial and sexual insults. However, profiles developed by linguistic experts have one surprising thing to say - the writer is likely a woman.

"Men tend to suggest a more explicit threat and a demand for action but, while the nature of the letters were very nasty and would clearly have been received as threats, they were not explicit about what that threat might be. [. . .] One of the things that were striking about the letters was the heavy use of expressive adjectives, which is more typical of women than men."

Experts also think the suspect will likely have written more typical complaint letters to companies or politicians, and have asked for any who recognize certain unusual turns of phrase in the letters to come forward.

DNA evidence from the letters also supports the linguistic experts' theory.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lock up or field trips?

by blogger msb

In Seattle, a convicted killer escaped during an annual field trip. Phillip Arnold Paul was one of 30 mental patients from Eastern State Hospital recently taken to the local fair by several staff members. Paul, who was classified schizophrenic and acquitted of murder, vanished from the fair with a backpack full of clothing, food and money. He was later apprehended on the side of the highway several miles from the fair.

Shortly after the escape, Susan N. Dreyfus, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, ordered a halt to all field trips for "forensic patients," those committed for treatment as a result of criminal proceedings, at all three of the state's mental institutions..."We are committed to finding out how and why this happened, why there was an unacceptable (two-hour) delay in notifying local law enforcement of his escape, and how potentially dangerous patients were brought to such a public venue with the reported staffing ratios"

The really sad part...this is the second time Paul has escaped from a field trip and endangered those around him.

I'm Innocent

by blogger ADD

Texas is on the verge of admitting that it executed an innocent man. The man in question was tried and convicted on faulty forensics.

In 1991,
fire swept through Cameron Todd Willingham's small home. He escaped but his 3 daughters did not. Despite having no clear motive, he was charged with arson. Willingham who had prior run ins with the law was tried, convicted, and executed in 2004.

The new report criticizes the former fire marshal who investigated the blaze and testified for the prosecution. The report states that his testimony was based upon his personal opinion and was not based in science. The report added that the investigators showed poor understanding in fire science and that a finding of arson could not be sustained.

"If something comes out of his execution that would improve the criminal justice system and keep a tragedy like this from happening in the future, it's a very big deal," explained Robert Udashen, a Dallas attorney, who’s also a member of The Innocence Project, which brought the case to the state’s attention.

The Willingham investigation is only the second the Texas Forensic Science Commission has ever conducted. They plan a statewide meeting next month in Las Colinas.

Smile, You're on Candid Camera!

by blogger jmj

A forgery and theft case in Pierce County, Washington was solved with the use of facial recognition software being pilot tested by the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. An ATM surveillance image was compared to 16 years' worth of mug shots taken at the Pierce County Jail using Sagem Morpho Inc.'s new facial recognition software, MorphoFace. It took less than 15 minutes to find a match. The property crime case, that likely would have gotten cast to the side, ended with an arrest and conviction.

The software was used in Tampa, FL in 2001 during Super Bowl XXXV where scans of spectators identified 19 people with criminal records. However, none were wanted by authorities at the time. Airports looked into the use of facial recognition cameras as an added security measure after 9/11, but opponents raised concerns over privacy and argued the technology was intrusive and ineffective.

The difference with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department is that the software is being used as an investigative tool to identify likely suspects in a specific crime, not to just scan crowds looking for felons. The Sheriff's Department is also testing the software to gauge its accuracy.

To test the software's accuracy, Wilkins checks whether it can match current mug shots of repeat offenders currently in the jail with their previous booking photos.

He goes through the daily bookings and selects the men and women who have been locked up before. He takes their most recent mug shots and uploads them into MorphoFace.

The program is asked to find possible matches in a database of more than 479,000 mug shots of people booked into the jail, the Remann Hall juvenile jail and the Puyallup City Jail since 1992.

MorphoFace uses algorithms to measure the location of a person's eyes and builds a model of the face that is compared with the mug shots in the database.

"It will recognize unique patterns in each person's face," Hess said.

Tests of the software have shown that it spots whom it should about 90 percent of the time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Super Sniffer!

by blogger mem

We all know that the police often use cadaver dogs to locate potential dead bodies, but did you know that they also use dogs to identify criminals? Apparently, scent dogs are often used to match suspects with forensic evidence found at crime scenes. In this article, however, The Innocence Project of Texas is claiming that some of these wonder dogs are responsible for wrongful arrests.

Fort Bend County Sheriff Deputy Keith Pickett and his dogs are being named specifically, citing that his methods are flawed. Curvis Bickham claims to have been falsely accused, and was arrested and charged with murder because of Pickett's dogs. The following video explains further.

“I saw Pickett with an extremely tight leash on that dog. That dog was going where Pickett was going. When Pickett stopped, the dog stopped,” said Dr. Larry Myers, consultant for The Innocence Project.

Though the charges against Bickham have been dismissed and he has been released, he reportedly lost everything because of this case.

Monday, September 21, 2009

DNA Sample could buy Freedom

by blogger gmp

Several states have passed laws over the past few years mandating individuals arrested for a felony must submit a DNA sample. The infamous O.C. also known as Orange County has taken it a step further and are giving those arrested the option of submitting a DNA sample in exchange for their charges being dropped. Those in favor of such measures believe not only will it serve as a deterrent for future criminals and cut down on the number of cases passing through the judicial system. A fee of $75 has also been proposed as the cost to submit the sample as part of the overall deal. Can we really place a price on freedom???

In a perfect world, I think most of us would prefer that were someone accused and arrested for a crime, they proceeded through the criminal justice system in a more traditional sense," Sorrell said. "However, these are very difficult times, and the volume of crimes has had a huge impact on the D.A.'s office and law enforcement agencies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Improving Fingerprint Recovery Rates for Metal Cartridge Cases

by jnr

Researchers at the University of Leicester are investigating a technique that may improve the visualization of fingerprints on metal surfaces, such as cartridge cases, by studying the chemical and physical interactions that occur between the metal and the residue deposited as a fingerprint.

Researcher Alex Goddard explains, "Once a finger has touched the metal surface, a residue remains behind, this starts to react with the metal and an image of the fingerprint can be developed by use of elevated temperature and humidity, with the resultant image becoming a permanent feature on the surface of the metal."

Bitemark Evidence: Not all it's cracked up to be??

by blogger bcs

According to a new study, bitemark evidence and analysis should be viewed with caution. In the past, the individuality of bitemarks has often been conpared to the individuality of fingerprints. Over the years, based on this misconception bitemark evidence has falsely convicted several people, who had their convictions overturned thanks to awesome power of DNA. This study marks the first time that human skin was used in a bitemark study, so the results were more along the lines of what would be seen in the field. Hopefully, this study will help forensic odentologists to convey to jurors, that while bitemark evidence can be an effective forensic tool, it is not as reliable as DNA, or fingerprints.

In the past 10 years, the number of court cases involving bitemark evidence that have been overturned led us to question the reasons for the erroneous bitemark identification. It's important to recognize the serious consequences of a misidentification for the accused, the victim, the families involved, the justice system and the possibility that the perpetrator is still at large.

Good Cop, No More Bad Cop

by blogger dab

What if harsh interrogations were not necessary and even less effective to bringing out the truth from potential suspects? Scaring someone into confessing lies can waste time in criminal investigations. Sure there are ways to guess whether someone is telling lies, body signals, twitches, etc. There are even polygraph tests, but they only measure physiological changes indirectly affected by lying. These current methods just aren't enough.

Forensic Scientists have come up with a new method which treats interrogations more like a conversation in a bar instead of a confrontation. More can be told about listening to what people are saying instead of how they are saying it.

First, the person recalls a vivid memory, like the first day at college, so researchers have a baseline reading for how the person communicates. The person then freely recounts the event being investigated, recalling all that happened. After several pointed questions (“Would a police officer say a crime was committed?” for example), the interviewee describes the event in question again, adding sounds, smells and other details. Several more stages follow, including one in which the person is asked to recall what happened in reverse...People telling the truth tend to add 20 to 30 percent more external detail than do those who are lying. “This is how memory works, by association,” Dr. Hiscock-Anisman said. “If you’re telling the truth, this mental reinstatement of contexts triggers more and more external details.”

This new method isn't perfect. There are limitations to what kind of information can be asked. It is only effective for asking about what happened during a specific time, not for individual facts like, "Did you see him wearing a hat?" Expert and pathological liars are also unable to be tested.
All in all, suspects and officers can breathe a sigh of relief now that harsh treatment and fear no longer have to be used in questioning.

XBox Forensic Tool Kit: XFT

by blogger kjt

See, you really can have fun at work! The field of forensics is continually advancing technologically and with the introduction of the XBox tool kit, these advances are becoming more profound. Computer forensics has now been able to go beyond searching computer databases. It is now quite common for criminals to store illicit data on game consoles, such as the XBox. Digital forensics expert, David Collins of Sam Houston State University, has truly had the pleasure of playing with all types of games consoles in order to make hardware and software for the XBox and other devices.

"Cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, game consoles and other devices provide a convenient means to store data of all kinds, including images, video, audio and text files. But they also provide a simple way for criminals to possess and hide illegal material too."

"Collins explains how future work on XFT will involve making the toolkit into a fully functional forensic operating system (OS). This OS will be packaged as both a bootable operating system from a hard disk and a "live" bootable compact disk."

What will they come up with next?

The Chemical Stench of Death

by CFL

As of now, police dogs are specially trained to find dead bodies by the lovely fragrance of decay. However, this may all change, because scientists are working on a new device that can detect the chemicals that create the smell of rotting corpses. They say they are looking for the "chemical fingerprint of death". Not only will the device help find the bodies, but will also be able to figure out how long the body has been there....just based on the smell. Sounds pretty stinky, but very cool!

"In an advance toward the first portable device for detecting human bodies buried in disasters and at crime scenes, scientists today report early results from a project to establish the chemical fingerprint of death....."

"To develop such a device, scientists must identify what gases are released as bodies decompose under a variety of natural environmental conditions, Jones noted. In addition, they must detail the time sequence in which those odorant chemicals are released in the hours and days after death."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Engineering Drug-Free Cannabis Plants

by blogger sjk

This is it folks! The first step has been taken towards engineering drug-free cannabis plants. That's what I said, drug-free. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have identified the location of the gene that produces tetrahydrocannabinol or THC in marijuana and hemp plants. The hallucinogenic compound can be found in the cystolithic hairs covering the plant's flowers and leaves. This discovery has lead to new research and the possibility of silencing the THC gene. If the gene can be silenced, not only would drug-free plants be visually identifiable because of their lack of tiny hairs, but farmers could once again use hemp as a cash crop to produce durable fiber that has been replaced by less environmentally friendly products, like plastics.

Recent popular demand for hemp products has led some states to consider the economic and environmental benefits of hemp. North Dakota legislation aims to reintroduce it as a crop, and Minnesota is considering similar legislation. At the same time, California and other states permit the medicinal use of marijuana.

"Cannabis genetics can contribute to better agriculture, medicine, and drug enforcement," said George Weiblen, an associate professor of plant biology and a co-author of the study.

Fingerprints Show More Than Just Swirls and Loops

by blogger klv

Fingerprints can reveal identity, but what else can be found? A research team at Purdue has developed a method to determine chemical composition of trace residues left in fingerprints. Lifted prints are analyzed by mass spectrometry and show more than just fingerprint patterns. The compounds found in the print can then be used to separate a print of interest from another overlying fingerprint.

"The classic example of a fingerprint is an ink imprint showing the unique swirls and loops used for identification, but fingerprints also leave behind a unique distribution of molecular compounds," Cooks said. "Some of the residues left behind are from naturally occurring compounds in the skin and some are from other surfaces or materials a person has touched."

Will the real DNA please stand up

by blogger aaa

Studies show that DNA can be fabricated and placed at crime scenes. It was reported that the procedure is so easy that undergraduate students can perform it. Forensic science uses DNA to convict and/or acquit people everyday. If DNA can so easily be fabricated, What does that mean for us?

Current forensic procedure fails to distinguish between such samples of blood, saliva and touched surfaces with artificial DNA," the scientists wrote in an article recently published by "Forensic Science International: Genetics," a scientific journal...Researchers at Nucleix also demonstrated how one could implant DNA into real blood by using a centrifuge to separate red and white blood cells and placing the DNA in the former, giving the blood a new profile..."We have come up with a solution that should become an integral part of the standard DNA tests today and seal the hole that has been opened in what has become the gold-standard in forensics," said Ganor.

I guess we should hope this solution is just that a solution or we may need to find a new career.

CODIS: A Short Introduction

by blogger kjs

We've all seen those forensic shows: scientists putting things in tubes, extracting DNA from blood or semen and then running it through CODIS. Well, what is CODIS? If you asked any crime-scene-show-watching aficionado, they probably would tell you it's the "computer thing that catches the bad guys". While that's partially true, the real brains behind the operation lies in the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia.

CODIS, or COmbined DNA Identification System, is the National DNA Index System that contains of roughly 6.7 million offender DNA profiles from every state. It consists of two types of biological profiles: Forensic profiles, those with unknown DNA, and Offender profiles, DNA that has a name. The FBI currently processes over 5,000 samples in one month and hopes to jump to 90,000 by the year 2010!

With this system in place, states can make matches from an unknown DNA profile (Forensic profiles) to known profiles (Offender profiles) across state lines. In Alabama, forensic profiles have matched offender profiles in more than 20 states. This tool is helpful in the preventing of crimes by repeat offenders, whether or not they decide to remain within state lines.

2010 is a special year: The FBI and many states will begin implementing a new law which allows the collection of DNA profiles from felony arrestees; currently, only convicted felonies require DNA to be put into the database. The FBI will also be collecting samples from detained non-U.S. citzens to put into the system. The number of profiles will grow and so will the work to put them into the system, which provides a little light for DNA analysts looking for relief in the job market.

“We went from federal offenders to arrestees and detained non-U.S. citizens,” said Robert Fram, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I. laboratory division. “We don’t know where, or if, the number of profiles will plateau.”

The FBI is also employing robotics to help with the influx of offender profiles. Robotic machines will handle and place DNA in tubes during its various stages of analysis, preventing contamination and error, both of which have been hot topics in the field of forensic biology.

The future of this system is unknown but the present is certain: it is saving lives, both inside and outside of prisons and paving the way for technological advancement within the forensic science community.

Unsealed crime scene

by blogger ic

So, earlier this month there was a sad case of the missing Yale student, Annie Le, who was supposed to get married in days. Days later, her body was found in the wall of the building where her lab was. Basically, she was seen going in her the building where her lab was but was never seen going back out. It would seem obvious that something awful occurred in the building, yet the Yale PD still decided to keep the building open, even until Sunday, when her body was finally found in the wall. Even though this was a missing persons case for the first couple of days, there should've been more caution.

In a series of interviews conducted yesterday, law enforcement experts from around the country said they were surprised and concerned that authorities did not seal the research facility on Amistad Street as soon as it became clear that Le was missing and that a crime could have been committed inside the building.
But the circumstances surrounding Le’s disappearance were unclear, and investigators initially proceeded on the presumption that Le was missing or kidnapped — not trapped inside the laboratory at 10 Amistad St.

Anything could've happened in the building any of the five days after she disapeared, and any evidence of the crime could've been contaminated. The Yale PD could probably have shown some better judgement in decisions they made.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

DNA Evidence Fabricated

by blogger hcn

I recently saw a series of segments on a news show questioning forensic science. After examining several areas of forensic science and questioning their validity, they made a statement that DNA evidence seems to be the only truly accurate evidence to link a person to a crime scene. According to a recent New York Times article, that may not be the case anymore. Scientists in Israel were able to fabricate blood and saliva samples with DNA from a person other than the donor.

The authors of the paper took blood from a woman and centrifuged it to remove the white cells, which contain DNA. To the remaining red cells they added DNA that had been amplified from a man’s hair. Since red cells do not contain DNA, all of the genetic material in the blood sample was from the man. The authors sent it to a leading American forensics laboratory, which analyzed it as if it were a normal sample of a man’s blood.

Obviously a person attempting to fake and plant DNA evidence would need a background in biology and DNA analysis techniques to pull this off. I think it's safe to say your average criminal won't be able to have access to the necessary equipment and the knowledge to do this, but it is an interesting new study.

Bad Science?

by blogger orf

There have been many complaints recently about the reliability of forensic science. In February, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that pointed out all the flaws found in the field of forensic science, particularly with those that use comparative analysis such as fingerprint analysis. DNA analysis seems to be the only widely accepted forensic science field, but it has been well funded in order to become scientifically proven.

"If we're making life-or-death decisions based on science, we better make sure the science can stand up to rigorous scrutiny," said Ben Wecht, the institute's program administrator.

At a meeting held Dusquesne University on September 11, 2009, the concerns brought up by the National Academy of Sciences were further discussed. It seems now that the only way to improve the forensic sciences is for the government to provide additional funding for testing.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Implants Reveal Identity

by csc

There are many ways to identify a person, including: dental records, DNA, and fingerprints. A not so new, but now highly publicized way of making an identification now includes serial numbers.

The publicity that I'm referring to is the case of Jasmine Fiore, the swimsuit model that was murdered and stuffed into a suitcase. Although, she was without both teeth and fingertips, clearly her murderer/husband was an avid CSI viewer, she was still able to be identified by the serial numbers stamped into her breast implants. In fact, all medical implants come with serial numbers.

Originally intended to speed recall of defective devices and ensure patient safety, serial numbers on implants and prosthetics are now being used to speed identification of the unknown.

...If you have something surgically implanted in you by a surgeon, that is going to have a serial number, and that serial number will be recorded

Just another tool in our forensic arsenal to prove to criminals everywhere, no matter how much tv fodder you digest, it's pretty difficult to outsmart the scientist.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

New Technology Further Automates Fingerprint Identification

by blogger cnt

We've all seen CSI. Investigators find a fingerprint at a crime scene, scan it into the computer and seconds later, voila! A single, perfect match...except we know that's not really how it works. In reality, before a print can be entered into IAFIS or a similar system, a fingerprint examiner must first mark out the distinguishing features of the print. The system will then return numerous results that must be manually examined by the fingerprint specialist.

Now, a new technology has the potential to automate the first part of the procedure. Scientists at NIST are currently testing Automatic Feature Extraction and Matching (AFEM) software prototypes being developed by eight different vendors.

The AFEM software extracted the distinguishing features of the latent prints, then compared them against 100,000 fingerprints. For each print the software provided a list of 50 candidates that the fingerprint specialists compared by hand. Most identities were found within the top 10.

...Results ranged from nearly 100 percent for the most accurate product to around 80 percent for the last three listed.

Will this technology really be able to reliably replace human fingerprint examiners in identifying distinguishing points on a fingerprint? Only time will tell, but it's definitely something to watch.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Uh oh...

by blogger team UAB DB

Uh oh...undetectable blood? Not good for forensic examiners. And why do we continue to help out criminals through the media. If these detergents with active oxygen do work new methods of detection will have to be developed.

"Regardless of the type of material used and the time that had elapsed, in every single case where the three tests were performed, the presence of blood was not detected...".

Common blood enhancers such as phenophthalene and luminol were used in the study and gave negative results for blood on every cloth washed with the active oxygen detergents. I wonder if IR photography could work to show the presence of blood after washing? I'm sure someone's alreeady on that though, at least I hope so.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


by blogger jgl

The Bring Your Own Slides session is often a highlight of the AAFS annual meeting. This year was no exception. The BYOS session is an opportunity for forensic scientists to share interesting stories from their work. There is always a mix of entertaining, light stories, along with more somber stories that are part of the profession (medical examiners are usually featured).

This session was hosted by Dr. Michael Baden of HBO's Autopsy. I think he usually hosts it. His talks are always good. Tonight he didn't have a feature, but threw in good comments throughout.

One of the top talks was by Sam Brothers, a computer forensics guy from US customs. He is a magician! I liked the card counting demonstration.

The feature of his talk focused on cell phone/GPS forensic work. iphones are unique for retaining voicemail in the phone... windows washer doesn't wash log files... a smashed (or chewed) sim card can still be analyzed... and your GPS knows where you are and where you've been. technology helps the good guys!

The always entertaining Mark Benecke ( gave a "fun" talk on a german cannibal. He pointed out that cannibalism can be a tricky category when it comes to charging the crime. Homicide doesn't necessarily fit when a person volunteers to be killed and eaten by another person. Trust me, the details are even weirder than it sounds.

The real bones herself, Kathy Reichs stopped by and told a neat story about how research for one of her books helped lead to an answer in one of her cases. I'm not sure if i have the details right, but basically while researching a deceased Canadian who died in a Guatemalan civil war and a past leper community on Tracadie in New Brunswick, the local press (and possible accompanying documentary) led to someone coming forward admitting to raiding a graveyard when he was a 12-year-old kid. After a couple failed pranks, the bones were ditched in some woods. Years later, in 1989, the skull wound up in kathy reichs' hands and has remained unidentified. eh... i think i messed up the story... maybe it will be featured in an episode of bones.

other good talks as well. Did you know Dickens worked for a coroner? and wrote some articles for the Lancet?

AAFS Annual Meeting

by blogger jgl

Pictures later. I forgot the camera cable, although i noticed a radio shack on the 16th street mall.

I arrived at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting (convention) on wednesday. I wonder if there is any chance that people will start to refer to this as For Sci Con or FSC for short...

One noticeable improvement was that the conference organizers had many bulletin boards available to the "public". In recent years there have been as little as 3, covered with junk.

The cybercafe was also terminal plentiful, and not that crowded. Perhaps it was just due to the time of day. Perhaps it is due to the fact more and more people have their own laptops... or netbooks. I didn't try out the wifi in the convention center (if it exists). I'm in a hotel that is a couple blocks from the convention center and notice that there is something called DowntownDenverWifi. Great! Except i can't get the DowntownDenverWifi to work. maybe it is just my laptop...

One potential non-improvement is the poster session. My complaint is that the posters are usually too close together. there isn't enough room to move around. Tonight, the 31 toxicology posters were neatly arranged in a closet. at least they took the coats out. when i left, i was wearing someone else's shoes... i don't know what that means.

the denver convention center is very nice and i was impressed with the 16th street mall. for those who never have been to denver the 16th street mall is basically where 16th street is closed to traffic for 6 or so blocks (except for the buses). shops and food, etc.

And the new AAFS webpage is really nice.

good start!