WVU undergraduate researcher Madison Lindung, a forensic chemistry major, carried out a study to understand how gunshot residue particles persist over time, what activities influence the loss of GSR and what activities can produce a transfer from a shooter’s hand or clothing to a secondary surface (i.e., hand or clothing from another person).
For some people that might come in contact with gunshot residue, there could possibly be a false conviction. The last thing we want to do is to convict people because there have firearm or residue in their hands and send them to prison, in a scenario where they are truly not the ones that committed the crime.
Firearm-related crimes are an increasingly common occurrence in the United States. When a firearm discharges a bullet, residues from the primer and propellant of the ammunition are expelled from the barrel and chamber of the weapon, consequently depositing on surfaces surrounding the event. These residues can be critical in explaining reconstruction efforts for investigators, including where a suspect might have fired from, the distance at which they shot a target, and whether a suspect could be linked to or excluded from a potential crime scene.
Q: What was your research about?
A: I studied gunshot residues and our research looked at it from two separate entities. There is organic gunshot residue and then inorganic gunshot residue. There are lots of questions about gunshot residue, but the main thing is gunshot residue is released from the barrel of the weapon as the firearm is discharged and this has residues that settles on the shooter’s hands, their clothing and their surrounding environment.
These residues are minute so we cannot see them typically by the visible eye. We have to use enhanced magnification for it, to analyze the residues. We can collect and analyze this information to basically determine if a person could have been involved in a firearm incident, could they have been around the vicinity. We can also do things like distance determination, depending on how much residue is surrounding a potential bullet hole. We can also determine how far the shooter might have been. There are a lot of questions surrounding this, we can look at the variability of gunshot residues, the human participants.
We can look at transfer and persistence. Transfer is the movement of materials from one surface to another and persistence is the ability if that material to stay on a surface overtime and this is where my research comes in. Assessing those properties and events that might follow a potential firearm incident.
Q: What is the implication of this study on the average person?
A: For some people that might come in contact with gunshot residue, there could possibly be a false conviction. The last thing we want to do is to convict people because there have firearm or residue in their hands and send them to prison, in a scenario where they are truly not the ones that committed the crime. We do not want to put innocent people in jail, and we also do not want guilty people to walk free. The implication there is someone could miss out on a good portion of their lives for a crime they did not commit or someone who truly has committed a crime is still on the streets and could be a threat to public safety.
Q: How instrumental was your research mentor during this research?
A: Dr. Tatiana Trejos has been a huge help during this entire process. I worked with her and graduate mentors (Courtney Vander Pyl, Korina Menking-Hoggatt and Kourtney Dalzel) that guided me in this process. I have to say they have given me a lot of confidence and faith in myself. I bounce ideas off them and they are the kind of people who would say, “OK, we can make this happen, let’s figure out how to make it happen.” They are the biggest support system one could have in terms of research and coming up with these ideas. This project would not have been able to happen without them or without their patience and I am just so grateful they gave me the opportunity to participate in this research.
Q: How would you describe your experience at WVU so far?
A: I am a senior and I will be graduating May 2023. I started my research in the spring of my junior year. I love my time here even though COVID-19 impacted a portion of it, unfortunately. I love the University; I love the opportunity it has given me with the forensics program, which I think is spectacular.
I was recently accepted into the master’s program in forensic science, so I will be continuing for at least two more years, which I am really excited to do.
Q: If you can go back in time, what scientific invention would you have loved to be a part of?
A: I would have loved to be a part of the process that led to the discovery of DNA and analyzing it. It was also a strong aspect of building the foundations of forensic science. I think I would be interesting to see how those processes occurred in real time and then the benefits we have from it today. It would have been a cool thing to see from start to finish.
Q: How do you spend your free time?
A: I spend a lot of my free time with my cats. I have two cats. I am also a member of the West Virginia Weightlifting Club. So, about four days a week, a spend two hours a day there. I love the team and the strength aspects. Besides that, I love spending time outdoors and West Virginia is a beautiful place to do that.
Q: What is your favorite pizza topping?
A: I think my favorite pizza topping will have to be pepperoni and sausage.
Written by Nathaniel Godwin