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Chemistry’s Fingerprint Fellow

Crystal Huynh, Ph.D. chemistry candidate. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 2, 2016) – For Crystal Huynh, being honored by a prestigious research agency only adds to a list of accomplishments she never expected.

Huynh, a doctoral candidate in chemistry, was recently awarded a grant through the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Graduate Research Fellowship Program. It will cover all expenses related to her ongoing forensic science research for the next year.

Under chemistry professor Jan Halámek’s guidance, Huynh is part of a research team which can identify culprits as male or female based on amino acid content left behind in crime scene fingerprints. Their findings have been published in multiple academic journals and received international media attention from outlets including the New York Times, Forensic Magazine and Chemical and Engineering News.

The fellowship is a direct recognition of the project’s success.

“I never expected to be part of anything this groundbreaking,” said Huynh. “The work we are doing is not only bringing publicity to the University, but also has the potential to make a difference in forensic investigations. It’s exciting to be part of something that can positively impact society.”

Huynh was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, but moved shortly after to New Orleans, Louisiana where she spent the majority of childhood. She did her undergraduate studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, originally intending to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals.

Her path changed senior year, after a professor at Xavier offered up a research position in her lab. From there, Huynh decided to switch gears, and pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry.

UAlbany’s forensic science program was a top choice.

Crystal Huynh and chemistry professor Jan Halamek
Huynh is part of chemistry professor Jan Halámek’s research team. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

“I was a little unsure when I first came to UAlbany exactly what type of research I wanted to pursue,” Huynh said. “Once I sat through professor Halamek’s presentation, I was hooked. It’s been a great fit. I’m not only doing innovative forensics work, but have also learned how to publish academic papers, and turn our idea into reality.”

The NIJ grant is enabling Huynh to continue working on the fingerprint research. She hopes to not only advance the team’s current amino acid analysis, but also determine other characteristics of the culprit, including ethnicity and food habits. Their end goal is to build a forensic kit utilized by all law enforcement.

Huynh is expected to earn her Ph.D. next spring. As for what comes next? She’s unsure, but believes her passion for forensic chemistry, and experience in Halamek’s lab, will have a large influence.

“I originally wanted to work in a crime lab. However, at this point, I feel like I want to try something new,” Huynh said. “I’ve been exploring opportunities to cross different things I’m passionate for. For example, chemistry and cooking, or chemistry and art. It would be fun to pursue something that’s irregular and unique.”

The NIJ Graduate Research Fellowship Program is designed to support doctoral students who are pursing STEM-based research. It specifically focuses on research which is solving issues in public safety, crime, and the fair and impartial administration of criminal justice in the United States.

You can learn more about Halámek by visiting his lab’s website and faculty expert page. Also read our University feature story on his viral research.

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