A West Virginia University professor has been named to the first ever National Commission on Forensic Science, a top-level federal advising committee designed to strengthen forensic science in the United States.
Suzanne Bell, an associate professor in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry, is one of 35 members ranging from professors to judges to federal lab workers. They were chosen from more than 300 applicants.
She applied in March of 2013 and was notified in December.
“I had assumed that I wasn’t selected. I heard how many applications were received and I thought ‘I don’t have a chance.’ I was stunned, but I was happy.”
Members of the commission will work to improve the practice of forensic science by developing guidance concerning the intersections between forensic science and the criminal justice system.
The commission also will work to develop policy recommendations for the U.S. Attorney General, including uniform codes for professional responsibility and requirements for formal training and certification.
“The primary thing I’m interested in is bringing more fundamental science to forensic science, both as research and in practice. If we can integrate fundamental science into forensic science, the other problems will be much easier to solve,” Bell said.
“You have to be a scientist first and foremost. As I tell my students, forensic is easy, science is hard.”
Bell said she would like to see forensic scientists break out of the established routine to discover more effective ways to conduct their work.
“Forensic science practices have become routine; in any kind of a laboratory with a high workload, this is inescapable. However, it is important for us to think about our work in terms of science—be critical about results, to be thoughtful about your results, to be fully honest about your results,” Bell said.
“That is good science.”
“That was really the model that drove a lot of this to begin with. DNA is now a quantitative probabilistic science. This model has and should play a role in other areas of forensic science.”
Before arriving at WVU, Bell was a professor at Eastern Washington University where she worked with the Washington State Patrol to develop a lab on campus.
Bell also has experience working in Los Alamos National Lab as an analytical chemist, and with New Mexico State Police as a forensic chemist and crime scene analyst. She is a fellow in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and a member of the American Chemical Society. She currently serves on the international Scientific Working Group for Seized Drug Analysis and is a commissioner on the Forensic Education Program Accreditation Commission.
For more information, contact Suzanne Bell, at (304) 293–8606 or Suzanne.Bell@mail.wvu.edu.
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