Professor's Advisory

    John Rankin
    Marshall University
    Forensic Science Center

    "Following accepted methodology in analyses fulfills court requirements for presenting results. ASTM standards are definitely considered to be 'generally accepted methods"

    At what university and in what department do you teach?
    I am a professor in the Marshall University Forensic Science program. Marshall University is located in Huntington, W. Va., and has about 16,000 students in two- and four-year undergraduate and graduate programs.

    What is the nature of the courses you teach?
    The courses I teach include forensic analytical chemistry, advanced drug analysis, forensic toxicology, and chemical analysis of trace evidence. Forensic Science at Marshall is a master's only program, and all the courses I teach are graduate courses.

    In which committees are you active? Are you a committee officer?
    An ASTM International member since 2000, I work on ASTM International Committee E30 on Forensic Sciences and am chair of E30.01 on Criminalistics. I am also a member of Committee E54 on Homeland Security Applications, where I have served as chair of Subcommittee 54.01 on CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) and Conventional Detectors and Sensors.

    What are some advantages of your participation in standards development?
    My ASTM work keeps me up to date on standards, especially in forensic science. I want to present the current standards to my students, who will be using them in crime labs.

    Do you incorporate standards, ASTM or otherwise, into your curriculum? If so, what types? How are they implemented (case studies, research, other)? What is the value of doing so?
    Yes, particularly standards related to fire debris analysis and drug analysis. Students are required to do labs that follow a particular standard. For example, for fire debris, the standard is E 1618, Test Method for Ignitable Liquid Residues in Extracts from Fire Debris Samples by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry.

    Have you worked in industry, either past or currently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this experience?
    I worked for 14 years for Shell Development Co., the research arm of Shell Oil, as a research chemist. Standards did not play a big role because most of our analyses used proprietary methods.

    Have you been involved in research, either past or presently? If so, in what capacity? What role did standards play in this research?
    Yes, both in industry and in my current academic position. We have a small project now comparing E 1412, Standard Practice for Separation of Ignitable Liquid Residues from Fire Debris Samples by Passive Headspace Concentration With Activated Charcoal, to a canine in the detection of ignitable liquids at a fire scene.
    Fire investigators increasingly are using dogs to detect possible sites where samples for analysis for presence of ignitable liquids, such as gasoline, should be collected. Because of recent court rulings, determining the sensitivity and selectivity of the canine to various ignitable liquids is important. The percentage of false positives and false negatives needs to be assessed. We also use E 1412 along with E 1618, Standard Test Method for Ignitable Liquid Residues in Extracts from Fire Debris Samples by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry, in my research on individualization of gasoline found in fire debris.

    What advantages do you see for students to have an understanding of standards and their development?
    Our graduates will become expert witnesses in court during their forensic careers. Following accepted methodology in analyses fulfills court requirements for presenting results. ASTM standards are definitely considered to be "generally accepted methods."

    How might you persuade a colleague to incorporate standards education into his/her curriculum?
    I do try to keep my colleagues up on the latest standards from E30 that are applicable. Generally speaking, the use of standard methods is included in most areas of the program.

    In your view, should a familiarity with standards be required for graduate-level education, particularly in engineering, law and business disciplines? Would this assist in gaining professional success?
    I agree that there should be a familiarity with standards, especially in engineering where there are a number of standards both ASTM and other standards development organizations. Law that is covered by E30 and E54 affects many areas of business.

    2005