CSI: ND

Sarah Cahalan '14 | July 9, 2018

The last time I went to a conference, I came back with an inbox full of unanswered emails and a new tote bag. When Sarah Lum went to the International Symposium on Microscale Separations and Bioanalysis in 2016, she came back with a doctoral dissertation project.

Then a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Lum had signed up to present her research on bacterial separation, but the conference was small. At one point, the only events on the schedule were one talk on pharmaceuticals and another on forensics.

“Neither one applied to me or my research,” Lum says, “but Norm” — Norman Dovichi, Lum’s advisor and the Grace-Rupley Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry — “sent me to the conference, so I thought, ‘Eh, may as well go learn something.’”

She picked the forensics session, and her journey toward one of Notre Dame’s more unusual doctoral careers began.

In the talk, analytical chemist Bruce McCord of Florida International University spoke of what’s known in the forensics community as “the backlog” — the hundreds of thousands of “rape kits” sitting untested in crime laboratories across the United States. Medical personnel use a sexual-assault evidence kit, better known as a rape kit, to perform an exhaustive physical exam that gathers the DNA evidence left behind on an assault victim’s body.

That evidence can be crucial in solving a crime and preventing future ones, but it often goes untested. Some kits fall into the backlog because detectives and prosecutors fail to request DNA analysis. Others sit in evidence lockers for weeks or even years because of financial or scientific barriers: Testing a rape kit is expensive, difficult and time-consuming.

As Lum listened to McCord’s talk, she realized that her work in Dovichi’s lab might be able to resolve some of those issues.

Read more here.

 by Daily Domer Staff

Posted In: ND Magazine