Ever think it was really cool that forensic scientists could link people to crimes because of fingerprints and pieces of hair?

Now they can also use pieces of glass to trace back to a crime scene, thanks to a discovery made by Heidi Nawrocki, a graduate student in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry at West Virginia University .

For her efforts, Nawrocki, of Somerset, Pa., will receive the Emerging Forensic Scientist Award from the Forensic Sciences Foundation.

Nawrockis research focuses on the differentiation of forensic glass samples using a technique called cathodoluminescence, which means the emission of light by an electron beam. Nawrocki uses a scanning electron microscope to view the glass samples and a cathodoluminescence detector, which is capable of detecting the light given off by the glass.

Once the data is acquired, she can connect a piece of glass at a crime scene to a piece of glass found in, say, a suspects car, making it even more difficult for criminals to get away with crimes.

Nawrocki will accept her Emerging Forensic Scientist Award at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences’61st anniversary meeting in February 2009 in Denver.

Its an honor to be receiving this award,she said.I really enjoy using the scanning electron microscope, so the entire research project was always fun and intriguing to me. Im just very grateful that I was able to use facilities like the Crime Scene houses here on campus that WVU provide. Without them, my results wouldnt have been as strong.

The Forensic Sciences Foundation is a nonprofit organization that studies the application of science to the resolution of social and legal issues. Every year the foundation gives an award to nurture a productive dialogue between emerging judicial and forensic standards of reliability and genuineness.