Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Mar. 06, 1998

FBI, Ames Lab looking for research collaborations

by Steve Karsjen, Ames Laboratory

The FBI is "pushing the frontier" in forensic science and is calling upon researchers at Ames Lab to help. That was the message delivered repeatedly during a recent visit to the lab by top scientists from the FBI Laboratories in Washington, D.C., the world's largest forensic science lab.

Led by Randy Murch, deputy assistant director of the FBI Laboratories, the team of five scientists met with Ames Lab researchers to discuss ways to match the bureau's needs in advanced forensic evidence-collection techniques with research under way at the lab.

Murch recalled images of the Oklahoma City bombing and the explosion that downed TWA Flight 800 to underscore the need for advancements in forensic science.

The Department of Energy and the FBI are preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding that allows DOE researchers to tackle research for the FBI.

"We need to find a small family of laboratories with whom we can develop a long-term relationship," Murch said.

In an agency announcement, the FBI highlighted technical challenges facing the bureau, including a need for portable and miniature analytical instrumentation for DNA, drug, gunshot and explosive residues analyses and advanced analysis of materials after a disaster or criminal or terrorist act.

The FBI team heard from several lab researchers whose cutting-edge research would support the bureau's research needs.

Ed Yeung, program director for the physical and biological chemistry division, outlined his work in developing instrumentation for advanced DNA analysis. Sam Houk, senior chemist, explained new methods for trace inorganic analysis through the use of inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry.

Marc Porter, director of the Microanalytical Instrumentation Center, described his research efforts in developing miniaturized analytical instrumentation. And Doug Jacobson, associate, discussed his research in computer-intrusion detection or what he calls "information terrorism."

To promote research collaborations throughout the university, the FBI scientists also visited the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology.

Murch and his colleagues said they would like to arrange more visits to the lab.

"It seems the lab's research interests are a lot like ours," said Murch, who also sees potential for establishing a strong academic relationship with ISU to develop a talent base from which to hire new researchers and technicians. "Think of it as a type of 'farm system' for scientists."

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