FAIRFAX, Va. (WDVM) — This spring, George Mason University will get to work on constructing its five-acre Forensic Science Research and Training Laboratory on its Science and Technology Campus in Manassas.
The university’s facility will be the only one in the mid-Atlantic region. It will also be the eighth in the world with outdoor research capabilities, using human donors. Starting in the late spring, students will study varying processes of human decomposition.
Mason is also partnering with local, state, and national law enforcement for officer training and to aid in crime-solving. The Forensic Science Program Director Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI profiler, says the lab will also facilitate research opportunities for her students.
“One of the things that we’ll be working on is scent dogs. We know they’re really good at it but we don’t know how they do it,” O’Toole said. “It’s an area that our students are interested in, the military is interested in, other branches of the government — they can all come here and participate in this learning opportunity.”
Associate Professor of Forensic Science Anthony Falsetti says the students’ research derives from law enforcement’s unsolved cases. “We can experiment and develop methods and techniques that will actually help them solve cases that they have today and unfortunately likely will have in the future.”
George Mason University launched its Forensic Science Program in 2010 for graduate students. The following year, the program opened up for undergraduates. About 400 students are currently enrolled in both the undergraduate and graduate programs.
Falsetti says the university worked with the directors of other facilities around the country to develop their own, including his alma mater: the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which established the first outdoor human remains facility in 1981.
“We’re not going to be competing with one another. We’re going to be collaborating with one another because our environment is different from the environments in Texas and Southern Illinois so that collaboration is going to give us a lot of strength,” O’Toole said.
While at the University of Tennessee, Falsetti said he learned to get to know the victim from the stories that could be told from their skeleton. “It kind of goes to this notion that, ‘everyone deserves a name,'” he said. “All of the forensics and all of the science that we apply is not only to give that person a name but then solve the case.”
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