Campus briefs: Alum lectures on real-life CSI

By James King
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 14, 2005

DPS criminalist puts DNA crime investigations herey

A single fallen eyelash at a crime scene is a large enough clue to develop a prime suspect and issue a warrant, said a UA alumnus who is now a criminal investigator.

Brice Akridge, a criminalist at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, spoke about how mitochondrial DNA can help investigators discover a person's identity.

Students squeezed into the lecture hall seats, sat on the ground and leaned against the walls as Akridge broke down forensic science to explain the correlation between DNA samples and crime scene investigators.

Mitochondrial DNA, as apposed to nuclear DNA, has regions in it called "noncoding" units, which are the key to identifying humans.

"You tend to find more evidence in noncoding. This is where we find difference in people," Akridge said.

DNA profiles are unique to an individual, with the exception of twins, and the odds of two humans sharing identical profiles is 150 billion-to-1, Akridge said.

The idea is that from blood, semen, tissue, bone marrow, hair root, saliva, urine or tooth pulp, a criminalist is able to create a DNA profile that a team of investigators may be able to use to find a match.

In order to find this match, investigators use a program called CODUS, which hosts thousands of DNA profiles, similar to that of the FBI's fingerprint database, and is most often used for nonsuspect cases. These cases mean there is no lead to a suspect except the body fluid that is left behind, Akridge said.

With samples such as teeth or bones, the investigators cut a small sample, and with the help of machines and nitrous oxide, they pulverize the bone leaving behind "a talcum powder consistency."

This powder enables criminalists to create a DNA profile. And it doesn't take much to create these profiles, Akridge said, because "anything associated with the crime that may have body fluid on it" may be used.

Technology like this can be used in cases of homicide, burglary, assault, terrorism, mass disasters and missing persons, Akridge said.

Forensic science is also aiding the war on terror, Akridge said, because when armed forces find failed bombs from insurgents, the bombs are processed to find out who the insurgents are.

UMC prepares for the worst

The dog clenched the arm between its jaws as police waited outside the tank with weapons ready to go. A woman in a protective suit joined the group that was standing outside University Medical Center.

This was not an armed robbery, but the second annual disaster preparedness fair, which hosted exhibitors yesterday from the Tucson Police Department SWAT team, the Tucson Fire Department and UMC security dogs.

While educating UMC employees about what options they have in emergency situations, the fair was also a meeting place for curious visitors wanting to find out who they can rely on in an emergency situation.

Disaster prevention is a "huge deal" at UMC, which is the only level-one trauma center in the area, said Liz Criss, clinical educator in the emergency department of UMC and one of the event organizers.

"You really have to have some plans and hope that you planned through all consequences," Criss said. "When it happens, at least you have the frame."

While UMC has never had to face a real disaster, little things such as a blackout or a water leak can have serious consequences in a hospital depending on where and how they occur, Criss said.

Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup joined the crowd for a couple of minutes and gave a brief speech in which he said the "community needs to be prepared for whatever the emergency might be."

Dana Barnes, firefighter and paramedic for TFD was busy making hot dogs for visitors, and said she came because it is important to educate people of what they can do to prepare for a disaster, even at home.

"Planning can make the biggest difference. It can be something small like having food in the house and when you make a plan you should include your kids, they deserve to know," Barnes said. "We do have a nuclear power plant, Raytheon and a military base. We don't try to goof off, there is a reason for it."

- Djamila Grossman

Mother of the CatCard to retire

A woman who radically changed how the UA students interact with administration for registering and paying for their classes will soon retire after 28 years of service.

Jean Johnson, director for strategic planning and operations in the financial services office, is largely credited with the transition to the CatCard as well as keeping the Bursar's Office in line with modern technologies.

Mark Barton, the associate bursar, said when he worked in the early 1980s in the Bursar's Office "it was a nightmare." He described a process which usually took all day for students to collect punch cards from each department then wait in a series of lines to process and pay for their cards.

He said Johnson pushed the UA to accept a new method, allowing students to use a phone to register for classes.

Barton said the phone service eventually evolved into Internet-based registration.

Liz Taylor, director of Information Technology Services in Financial Services Office, said Johnson was also responsible for the UA to shift to the CatCard.

Taylor outlined how prior to using the CatCard as the UA's official identification card, a library card was one of 20 different competing IDs.

"There was a sticker that someone put on a library card, and that sticker took on a life of its own." Taylor said.

She explained the sticker was often used to identify whether someone was a current student.

Taylor said the move to a CatCard eliminated the question of whether a student was "supposed to be here."

Johnson will retire here in Tucson, but will occasionally consult on special projects, Taylor said.

- J. Ferguson