Forensic Science Institute
Developing a well-respected education program can take years, but hiring one of the most renowned figures in the industry can instantly propel a university to the head of the pack.
Dr. Dwight Adams, director of UCO's newly formed Forensic Science Institute, spent twenty-three years with the FBI, the last four as director of the agency's Laboratory Division. In the 1980s, Adams was part of the team that developed the use of DNA testing technology in crime scene investigations.
UCO students are now reaping the benefits of Adams' experience as he has donned the hat of instructor, teaching Introduction to Forensic Science.
"I'm excited to be able to share my experiences with a group of forty students," Adams said.
The sophomore-level class is designed to provide a survey of how science is applied to the definition and enforcement of civil and criminal law.
The use of science, particularly DNA technology, to solve cases is becoming more and more common. DNA testing has been the standard for violent crimes like homicide, rape and assaults for several years, but is now also being used to solve non-violent crimes like burglaries and break-ins.
"It is a work horse for the crime lab," Adams said. "It helps to solve crimes without a suspect in mind because of the national DNA databank."
Established in 1998, the national DNA databank allowed all 175 crime labs to share their information electronically. When convicted, felons are required to provide a blood sample, which is entered into the databank. According to Adams, more than four million blood sample profiles are now on file this way. During eight years of operation, more than 40,000 crimes have been solved because samples from the case matched blood sample profiles in the databank.
In addition to changing the way crimes are solved, technology has also reduced the time involved in matching samples.
"In 1988, it took six weeks to perform a (DNA) test on a stain the size of a dime," Adams said. "Today a full-suite DNA test can be done in twenty-four hours on a stain you can't even see."
These advances stem from two developments. Robotics are now employed for much of the manual process in the lab and a technique called "polymerase chain reaction" (PCR) allows DNA to be replicated with ease.
"It (PCR) increased the ability to get a result, even in a sample that was degraded," Adams said.
DNA testing and the standards used in crime labs have been subjects of workshops conducted by the Forensic Science Institute.
"Individuals from nine different states came for DNA auditor training," Adams said.
Another continuing education seminar at the Institute offered insight on bomb factories and how to recognize the precursors for liquid based explosives, the substances currently restricted in airline cabins. While these seminars are aimed at professionals working the field, they attract a diverse audience including police, first responders, hazardous materials teams and attorneys – anyone who might come in contact with evidence from a crime scene.
While the experts are on campus to conduct workshops for the pros, Adams also encourages them to speak to UCO classes.
"Students receive an enhanced educational experience by seeing the scientists who are practicing in real life," he said.
Adams said there has been some confusion about the Forensic Science Institute since it was announced about the same time as construction began on the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation crime lab on the south side of Second Street, across from the University.
"The OSBI is not connected to the university," he said. But the lab's positioning is also not by happenstance. UCO and Edmond will be a focal point for the growing field of forensic science in the coming years.
After construction is complete, the Forensic Science Institute will be located on the north side of Second Street on the corner of Garland Godfrey Drive. Initially, the building will house classrooms, an auditorium and offices. Later phases of construction will include a laboratory.
Although it may sound like a heavy load for someone who has retired, Adams' keen interest in what he is doing says it makes it fun, rather than work.
"I see it as giving back to the university that has meant so much to me," he said. Adams received his bachelors in biology from UCO (then Central State) in 1977.
Adams credits shows like CSI and other reality-based shows featuring investigations with fueling the growing interest in forensic science. Large numbers of students want to study the subject. Edmond officials lobbied to get the OSBI lab in their community and Adams observed the Bureau getting hundreds of applicants for each FBI opening in forensic science.
He's hoping to steer some of his students in that direction.
"I want to encourage students to look at public service as a tremendous career opportunity."