Forensic chemistry at Williams received a boost when the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded two grants worth over $100,000 to Professor of Chemistry Lawrence Kaplan this past summer.
Kaplan said he will use the grant money to finance the development of a CD-ROM program for forensic science as well as to purchase an isothermal titration calorimeter for the school.
Kaplan is in the process of creating a CD-ROM titled “Project Sherlock: An Interactive Multimedia Program in Forensic Science.” When complete, the CD-ROM will contain different parts, including a sample crime scenes with evidence to be examined and a crime lab and a space where students can research techniques of forensic science. The crime scenes will include a drug bust, homicide and hit-and-run. Approximately 10 different forensic techniques will be taught on the CD-ROM.
This is not the first time that NSF has funded Kaplan’s research. In 1996, he was awarded a two-year grant worth $240,000 for the CD-ROM project. In June 1997 he decided to apply for more money to continue the development of the program.
“This is an idea I had that goes back a couple of years,” said Kaplan. “The idea was to develop a CD-ROM that would allow students to learn about forensic techniques.”
“I am very pleased that the NSF has supported my research and my efforts in curriculum development,” Kaplan added. “I have enjoyed working on the projects and I hope that a number of generations of Williams students will be the beneficiaries of the material we are developing.”
Since 1996, several Williams students have aided Kaplan with his research, investigating details of forensic science and assisting with the computer programming.
In addition to the assistance that Kaplan has received from the Williams student body, a professional animation company has also contributed to the program. Hop! Multimedia, which was created by Williams alumni David Furlow, has overseen the animation process for the last couple of years.
But Kaplan credits the Williams student body for the majority of his progress.
Daniel Nelson ‘99, for instance has aided Kaplan with his research for the past couple of years and plans to work for him next year.
Although the CD-ROM will not be available to the public until the summer of 2000, a number of companies within the forensic science community and the academic world have already expressed interest. According to Kaplan, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, as well as several chemical equipment companies, are curious about the program.
Through the grant, the school will be able to purchase an isothermal titration calorimeter. Kaplan explained that a calorimeter measures the amount of heat released through a chemical reaction, specifically a molecular interaction. Without a calorimeter, it is very difficult to examine the effects of a molecular reaction.
However, calorimeters enable scientists to examine the levels of heat and entropy released during molecular interactions. Kaplan said the calorimeter will be used in many of the chemistry and biochemistry courses offered at Williams.
Professor David Richardson, the chair of the chemistry department, said he anticipates that the calorimeter will be an asset to the laboratory programs in Chemistry 304 and 306. He said the calorimeter will enable students to measure the flow of minute amounts of heat into or out of experimental systems containing chemical reactions of interest.