FIRMS Workshop: CSI-Crime and Stable Isotopes
Prior to the formal opening of the ANZFSS/FIRMS conference, members of the steering group (Jim Carter, Lesley Chesson, Sean Doyle and Phil Dunn) presented a half-day work-shop entitled "Crime and Stable Isotopes" (CSI - get it). Attendees at the workshop came from five continents and represented a broad cross-section of the stable isotope community; law enforcement, research labs and instrument manufacturers. The workshop outlined areas in which stable isotope forensics have been successfully applied to solving crime but the main focus was on what turns stable isotope data into reliable evidence - traceability, quality standards, measurement un-certainty and methods of data analysis. With one small exception (i.e. the size of the presentation screen) the workshop was well received which was encouraging given that the attendees rated them-selves anywhere between expert and novice in the field. Please contact the steering group if you are interested in hosting a similar workshop
ANZFSS and FIRMS Conference
The official welcoming ceremony to the ANZFSS symposium included a brief welcome from FIRMS Chair Phil Dunn in which he encouraged non-isotope specialists to come along to the FIRMS stream of the conference as well as for FIRMS stalwarts to head over to other sessions to see if isotope analysis might be of use. There was a strong cultural element to the ceremony as New Zealand is rightly proud of its Maori heritage. Each day began with a plenary session, however FIRMS did not have a slot (something we would change given the chance) so our part of the conference kicked off with a Keynote from Gabe Bowen (Spatio-Temporal Isotope Analytics Lab group at the University of Utah). Gabe is no stranger to opening FIRMS conferences having done the same at the previous conference in Montreal and again gave an excellent presentation on the use of isotope ratios to create and query isoscapes.
The FIRMS sessions included talks on a variety of topics including illicit drugs; explosives; packaging materials; hair, fingernails and other human remains; palm oil as well as more general aspects of forensic IRMS analysis including new software and measurement uncertainty considerations. New Zealand based researchers also presented on isotopic analyses of Maori dog-coat cloaks as well as a project using analytical methods to trace the source of mud traditionally used to die flax – again highlighting the history of New Zealand and linking modern analytical methods to historic traditions. The full program of the conference including details of the 20 presentations from the FIRMS sessions can be found here. Many thanks to all those who contributed to the interesting and successful session content. The conference concluded with a review and outlook of the FIRMS Network followed by a panel discussion in which FIRMS members and non-members alike were able to suggest ways in which the FIRMS Network could improve. There were certainly a lot of suggestions around improving the FIRMS website which we will incorporate in a major overhaul that will go live in early 2017. Databases and the current problem with accessing those which are private for regulatory purposes were also discussed. The full conference programme can be found here (http://www.conference.co.nz/anzfss16).
Conference Prize Winners
Jennifer Mallette - Best Oral
Christy Manusco - Highly Commended Oral
Brett Tipple – Best poster
One of our members, Felicity Koens, who is a chemist for the Australian Federal Police, was presented with the prestigious Ian Riebeling Memorial Medal. The winner of this award is selected from a pool of presenters who are in the first five years (or part-time equivalent) of their employment as a forensic practitioner. Her presentation to the symposium was entitled 'A back- ground survey of polymers in the Australian Capital Territory - diversity in isotopic abundance values'. The presentation explored the potential of using Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) to enhance the discrimination of commonly encountered polymers (e.g. adhesive tapes, cable ties) in forensic casework, such as drug importations or assaults. A survey of polymers collected in the ACT region was undertaken, and variation was assessed across bulk polymer samples using IRMS. The results of this baseline survey indicated a high variability among polymers and therefore reinforced the value of using IRMS for future polymer examinations.