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Students Win IAS Award

University of Indianapolis students Isabel Melhado ’24 (MS Human Biology) and Alex Wong ’23 (MS Human Biology) recently presented at the Indiana Academy of Science (IAS) Meeting where they won the Emerging Scientists Research Poster Competition. 

This competition enables emerging scientists to experience the research world, share their research results with other emerging scientists, scientist judges, science educators, and compete for recognition. It also provides opportunities for networking with fellow emerging scientists as well as with senior scientists. 

Alex and Isabel’s project originally began as a research proposal assignment in their Forensic DNA class. They wanted to propose a topic that would not only be practical to accomplish but actually applicable to the field of forensics, and noticed that a majority of the class was wearing eyeglasses. From there, they researched some background on eyeglasses in a forensic context and built the proposal for their project based on the gaps in the research they found. 

This class allows students to complete the project through the UIndy Human Identification Center (HIC) if the research requires more than a semester to complete. Alex and Isabel didn’t hesitate on continuing their project. Over the next year, they worked on data collection, partnering with other labs on the analysis, including the Houston Forensic Science Center and DNA Mavens, and on the interpretations. 

They presented at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Meeting, the largest forensic science conference in the US, before presenting and winning their award at IAS. 

“The most challenging part of our research, and perhaps the most rewarding, has been learning how to adapt to the unexpected,” said Alex and Isabel. “In forensic science, you always try to account for all variables, but the harsh reality is that you never truly can.”  

When completing their DNA project, one of their individuals was excluded from their own eyeglasses, contradicting the other results and essentially, the purpose of their research. They had to problem-solve and try to find out why this occurred before presenting their data to the public. 

“By overcoming these hurdles and accepting the challenges head on, we matured as forensic scientists and people,” they said. “Performing a research project from start to finish was truly a dynamic learning experience.”

There were many things that occurred behind the scenes that they had to plan for and decide as the primary investigators of this research, from choosing which areas on the eyeglasses to test, to formulating a research plan ground in scientific rigor, and more. 

“Overall, we are extremely grateful to the University of Indianapolis Human Biology program, UIndy Human Identification Center, and DNA Mavens for supporting our research over the duration of the project.”

UIndy Professor of Biology & Anthropology and faculty mentor for Alex and Isabel, Dr. Krista Latham, worked with them through their research process and presentations. 

“This project was a great way for them to conduct research that will be meaningful in real world situations and they were able to get experience with cutting edge technology that we don’t have here at UIndy,” Dr. Latham said, “It was a great experience for me to work with them and watch them succeed with their research project.”