Student Science Research

Forensic Science Camp underway

It’s an exciting week for students in our popular Forensic Science Camp in the Faculty of Science.

Now in its second year, and with a second week added due to popular demand, teens in Forensic Science Camp learn about DNA extraction and examination, fingerprint collection and analysis, and examination of blood stains and spatter patterns.

“Forensic science is the application of science with a legal component,” explained Dr. Brenna Frasier, the camp’s founder and lead instructor.  “You could use forensics in chemistry, biology, engineering… it encompasses almost any scientific field.”

The lessons are a combination of instruction and hands-on learning, designed for students who are keen to learn and participate and who want experience conducting scientific research in a lab. They also learn to work as a team, as they would in “real world” situations.

An exciting part of the camp is doing a mock crime scene investigation in the field – in this case, in a staged residence room. Processing a crime scene is followed by a mock trial and presentation of evidence. Students also meet with professionals working in the field.

This camp gives participants a feel for the forensic science industry, and most of these students are already considering university programs in this field. By learning about skeletal remains, hair and fibre examination, and crime scene examination from our expert faculty members, students learn what crime scene investigators, forensic experts and other professionals do in their careers, and many are looking forward to pursuing this study further.

To be accepted into the camp, students age 14-17 complete an application form and an essay outlining their interest in Forensic Science.  To learn more, click here. Registration for summer 2020 will open in February.

Master of Science student Corwin Trottier recognized by Mineralogical Association



Congratulations to Master of Science in Applied Science candidate Corwin Trottier, recipient of a prestigious $5000 Mineralogical Association of Canada (MAC) Foundation Scholarship.

Corwin Trottier is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Applied Science under the supervision of geology professor Dr. Jacob Hanley. He holds not one, but two undergraduate degrees from Saint Mary’s University: a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a BSc in Geology.  

Trottier’s MSc thesis builds on his summer research with Dr. Hanley and Dr. Georgia Pe-Piper, where he studied samples from the Great Bear magmatic zone (GBMZ) in the Northwest Territories. These samples contain polymetallic “five-element” (Ni-Co-As-Ag-Bi) mineralization, which occur as structurally controlled veins within lightly metamorphosed volcanic and sedimentary host rocks. 

“Noteworthy recent research on five-element veins have focused on several European deposits, but GBMZ deposits remain untouched by modern analytical techniques,” writes Trottier in his thesis rationale.

Trottier’s research examines 60 rock samples that had been collected in the 1960s from the Eldorado Mine, which operated from 1933 to 1982, and stored at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) division of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) in Ottawa. His objective is to advance the understanding of the ores at Eldorado Mine and similar five-element veins using modern analytical tools.

“Mr. Trottier is laying new ground in our understanding of uranium-silver deposits in Canada and abroad,” said Dr. Hanley. “I have been greatly impressed by his worth ethic and care in conducting this important research.”

Previous studies in the GBMZ have not quantified the metals in ore fluids, nor have they captured trace element and stable isotope chemistry at the scale of individual vein stages. As a result, current models have not been able to explain the source of uranium and other metals at Eldorado from a geochemical perspective.

“Final results will be compared to those of previous studies in the GBMZ and other five-element occurrences around the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, NWT,” writes Trottier. “This comparison will provide insight into the potential genetic relationship between similar deposit styles of variable ore grade at local and regional scales. The expected outcome will bring a better understanding of how ore metals are distributed in similarly complex vein deposits.”

About the Scholarship

The Mineralogical Association of Canada awards two $5000 scholarships yearly, one to a student enrolled in an MSc program and one to a student in a Ph.D. program. The applicable fields of study are: Mineralogy, Crystallography, Geochemistry, Mineral deposits and Petrology.

M.Sc. student Shelby Scott describes meaningful work in Forensic Sciences

Shelby Scott

Shelby Scott

M.Sc.-student Shelby Scott, a Forensic Anthropology student at Saint Mary’s University, has been putting her education to use in a meaningful way. She has recently returned to Halifax from Cyprus, where she was working with a group that identifies missing persons for the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) in Cyprus. The CMP’s objective is to recover, identify and return to families the remains of 2000 people who went missing during conflict in the 1960s and 70s.

Shelby has also done forensic work in Thailand and South Africa and recently presented at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) conference in New Orleans, LA. She is supervised by Dr. Tanya Peckmann, Anthropology professor at Saint Mary’s and an experience forensic anthropologist.

She answered a few questions about her studies and her work in Cyprus.

Q. How did you get involved in this program in Cyprus?
I have always been interested in forensic anthropology in humanitarian contexts, and knew that I would need to investigate international opportunities in order to gain this kind of experience.

I got the two-month student contract after hearing about it from Dr. Claudia Garrido Varas, a member of my supervisory committee and a forensic adviser with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Q. With whom did you work?

The Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) in Cyprus is a bi-communal body established in 1981 by the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities with the participation of the United Nations.

The objective of the CMP is to recover, identify, and return to their families the remains of 2000 persons (501 Turkish Cypriots and 1,493 Greek Cypriots) who went missing during the inter-communal fighting of 1963 to 1964 and the events of 1974.

The CMP has three Members, two appointed respectively by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities and a third Member selected by the International Committee of the Red Cross and appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General. 

The CMP also employs a bi-communal forensic team of more than 60 Greek and Turkish Cypriot archeologists, anthropologists, geneticists, and psychologists. I worked with a team of Greek and Turkish Cypriot forensic anthropologists at the CMP Anthropological Laboratory. 

What did you learn in this role, and was there anything you didn’t expect?

As a qualified graduate student, I have had the unique experience of working alongside CMP forensic anthropologists to clean, photograph, and analyze exhumed skeletal remains.

I was responsible for associating individual or fragmented bones with larger skeletal elements, and generating biological profiles to estimate the age, sex, and stature of the skeletal remains, as well as identifying particular pathologies, traumas, or dental characteristics. I also examined all clothing and personal effects found among the remains.

Many of the remains analyzed by the CMP are commingled and often severely fragmented, which makes skeletal reconstruction and identification difficult. As a result of these circumstances and the experience I have therefore gained, I have greatly enhanced my forensic anthropological skills, especially with regard to commingled and fragmented skeletal remains.

Another skill that I improved upon through this position is the analysis of juvenile skeletal remains (i.e. the remains of children). There are many Cypriot children that went missing as a result of the inter-communal fighting of 1963 to 1964 and the events of 1974; I was shocked by the number of juvenile remains that have been exhumed. Regardless of how long you have worked in this field, or how much experience you have as a forensic anthropologist, identifying the remains of juvenile victims of war will always be shocking and emotionally difficult.

That sounds like it was very meaningful work. Did you meet any of the families of victims?

Once the CMP formally identifies the remains of a missing person, the families concerned are informed without delay by the respective Cypriot Member of the Committee. Families notified of the identification of their missing relative(s) are offered the possibility to meet with scientists involved in the identification process and to view the remains in a facility located next to the CMP Anthropological Laboratory. 

While I was completing my contract in Cyprus, I did not have the opportunity to meet with the families of victims or participate in the return of remains. I likely would not have been able to do so had the opportunity arisen, as I do not speak Turkish or Greek.

However, in past positions I have been involved in through my degree at Saint Mary's University (the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service, for example), I have had the opportunity to meet the families of deceased individuals, and I find that it is always tragic yet rewarding. The raw grief of families and the confirmation that their loved ones are gone is overwhelmingly sad. But by identifying the remains of a family’s loved one they are able to arrange for a proper burial and end a long period of anguish and gain closure. I always try to think of that as a positive.

What are your plans for the future?

Having just completed my position with the CMP, I aim to finish my Masters thesis, tie up my various other research initiatives, and graduate with a Master of Science in Applied Science degree from Saint Mary's University. I aim to begin my PhD (Forensic Anthropology) in September 2018. Ideally, I will remain within the realm of academia throughout my career, while also engaging in consultation work internationally and within Canada.