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Kelly Virkler, '09

Discovering New Frontiers of Forensic Science

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Kelly Virkler arrived at UAlbany in 2006 to pursue graduate work in forensic chemistry. Three and a half years later, she leaves with a Ph.D. and international attention for groundbreaking work related to crime scene forensic evidence.

Virkler chose UAlbany after graduating with a 4.0 GPA and double major in forensic science and chemistry from the University of New Haven. She soon took the opportunity to study forensics in the lab of chemistry department faculty member Igor Lednev. She had at that point, she said, “no idea what kind of project I would be working on,” but knew of Lednev’s success in developing and applying novel laser spectroscopic methods for biological and chemical studies.

Together, Lednev and Virkler began targeting the application of laser spectroscopy for forensic purposes — research strongly supported by the UAlbany-based Northeast Regional Forensic Institute. Using Raman spectroscopy, they discovered a nondestructive, confirmatory method for identification of body fluids found in biological stains at crime scenes.

The work received national and international attention, including from major publications such as Analytical Chemistry, the world’s top journal in the field. Last month, Lednev received a major research grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to further develop this method.

“From the beginning, Kelly established herself as a brilliant individual and extremely focused, organized, and productive researcher,” said Lednev. “Her hard work resulted in six first-authored papers in top forensic journals, including a major review article in Forensic Science International. We have also submitted a provisional patent application.” 

Amazingly, Virkler even found time to train for and compete in marathons and an ironman competition during this time, setting a personal best in the 2009 Philadelphia Marathon.

Virkler graduates this December — about two years faster than the average chemistry Ph.D. student. In a tough job market, she has a chemist position waiting with Calloway Labs in Woburn, Mass., which specializes in clinical toxicology.

“I think my success is largely due to our discovering a completely new technique,” she said. “Basically, everything we did was new and publishable.

“The entire experience working with Dr. Lednev was great. One of the best things was the feeling of accomplishment every time we got a paper published. It was nice to see the stress and frustration pay off.”

UAlbany graduate student Jacob Crawford, '09
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