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30 Jul

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Amino acids in human hair could help better identify perpetrators of crimes and their victims, according to new research.

1378477386_md Currently, when a DNA sample is collected at a crime scene, the sample is run through a database in an effort to secure a match. The challenge comes when the hair evidence does not contain the root—which contains the nuclear DNA—or when no matching sample exists in the database.

“If you do not have a known, the DNA analysis is literally useless,” said Glen Jackson, Ming Hsieh Distinguished Professor of Forensic and Investigative Science at West Virginia University and lead investigator on the project that is now funded through a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

Jackson’s research, using the chemical makeup of human hair, would enable analysts to make educated determinations about a person with a high degree of confidence.

“The ability to be able to tell three or four things about a person based on these chemical measurements could provide an investigative lead, even if an individuals’ DNA is not in a database. We can still know something about the person.”

Jackson has already successfully classified groups of individuals by Body Mass Index (BMI) and age, as described in a manuscript currently in press in the journal “Science and Justice.”

“Having an idea of what age a person is can dramatically increase the chance that a suspect is identified. For example, If we can say there’s a 90 percent chance this person is over the age of 45—that could be really helpful, because most crimes are committed by younger people,” Jackson said.

Jackson recently became a member of the Forensic Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (FIRMS) Network, a network whose applications include using isotopes to identify the geographic origin of victims or suspects, who do not have a DNA profile in a database. He will serve as chair of a national forensic mass spectrometry conference in Jan. 2015.

Before to moving to WVU in 2012, Jackson was an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio University, where he served as director of the forensic chemistry program for three years.

His research includes mass spectrometry instrumentation development, forensic and biological applications of mass spectrometry and isotope ratio mass spectrometry. His research has appeared in more than 40 publications, more than 100 conference and university presentations and two issued patents. In 2007, he was awarded an NSF CAREER Award.

He has taught several forensic-related mass spectrometry workshops to practicing forensic professionals, has served on several forensic education committees and workshops and is an active forensic chemistry consultant. He has appeared on Nancy Grace Live and his published research on trace human remains was once covered in an episode of “Law and Order SVU.”

For more information about Jackson’s research, contact Glen Jackson at 304-293-9236 or



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24 Jul

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Ann Oberhauser, professor of geography at West Virginia University, has co-edited “Global Perspectives on Gender and Space: Engaging Feminism and Development,” a book exploring the link between gender and global development.

Oberhauser co-edited the book with Ibipo Johnston-Anumonwo, professor of geography at State University of New York College at Cortland. Johnston-Anumonwo, originally from Lagos, Nigeria, and Oberhauser have worked together since they were students at Clark University’s Graduate School of Geography.

The book, which includes the work of researchers from across the world, provides geographic comparisons of widespread gender inequality that impact power dynamics and social change.

The topics in this collection broaden society’s understanding of “the economy, public policy, the environment and societal structures that shape women’s, and men’s, gendered worlds. Case studies from communities and regions in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, North America and the Caribbean illustrate diverse, yet related socio-economic and political contexts in which women struggle to empower themselves.” (quote from introduction to book – p. 4)

The book, divided into three sections, showcases the following issues:

• The impact of neoliberal policies on transnational migration, public services and microfinance programs

• Feminist and participatory methodologies employed in the evaluation of land use, women’s cooperatives and liberation struggles

• Gendered approaches to climate change, natural disasters and conservation in the global South.

Each of the issues is filtered through a feminist geography perspective, an approach that applies the theories, methods and practice of feminism to studies of the environment, society, and space.

For example, one chapter by Ram Alagan and Seela Aladuwaka, who earned their doctorates in geography from WVU, analyzes how women and men were affected differently by the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka.

“When the tsunami hit, women were more vulnerable than men, because they tended to be closer to the home itself,” said Oberhauser.

“Also, because of their clothing, they couldn’t run as fast, and in that society, too, girls aren’t taught to swim, whereas boys are in and around water all the time.”

Oberhauser’s research interests include gender and economic restructuring, rural development, women’s economic networks, and feminist methodology.

In March, she was awarded the 2014 Mary Catherine Buswell Award for her efforts advancing the concerns of women.

Oberhauser received her master’s degree and doctorate from the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University.

For more information, contact Ann Oberhauser at (304) 293-2249 or



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14 Jul

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Eberly College of Arts and Sciences has welcomed Lynne Cossman as the newly appointed Department of Sociology and Anthropology chair at West Virginia University The appointment, which is for a five-year period, became effective July 1.

photo Cossman comes to WVU from Mississippi State University, where she served as department head of the sociology department. She earned her doctorate in
sociology and demography from Florida State University in 1996, and has more than 22 years of experience in higher education in the field of sociology.

“The department here poses new and different challenges that I’m excited about—the fact that there are three disciplines represented in the department, there are more faculty in this department than the previous department I worked in, and there are more faculty at various ranks,” Cossman said.

“I’m so excited to be here and to be working with the faculty. I’m looking forward to meeting the students and I’m really looking forward to every single aspect of the job.”

Cossman will be working with faculty to establish a sociology doctoral degree in the department.

She also plans to develop a committee that will assess the feasibility of creating separate undergraduate offerings for sociology and anthropology, and to continue strengthening the master’s program in sociology.

“Dr. Cossman is an exceptional scholar with experience that is going to help the Department of Sociology and Anthropology meet its aspirational goals. And she is an energetic leader,” said Eberly College Dean Robert Jones.

“Even before officially joining us, Lynne began actively engaging with new faculty hires and the developing of a new Ph.D. program in sociology.”

In the long-term, Cossman said she hopes to build a stronger donor support base for the department. She also wants to place a special emphasis on high job placement for graduates of all of the department’s programs.

For more information, contact Lynne Cossman at (304) 293-4823 or



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9 Jul

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia novelist Marie Manilla and half a dozen other writers of national prominence will give readings at the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop on WVU downtown campus July 17 to July 20.

Manilla, from Huntington, West Virginia, is the author of the just-released novel “The Patron Saint of Ugly,” which “Kirkus Reviews” describes as a “clear-eyed, touching fable of a girl learning the hard truths about herself and others.”

All readings are free and open to the public. They will be followed by receptions and book signings.

The readings begin Thursday, July 17, at 8 p.m. in room 130 of Colson Hall with David Hassler, an anthologist, oral historian, memoirist, and the author of two books of poems, the most recent of which, “Red Kimono,” “Yellow Barn,” earned him the 2006 Ohio Poet of the Year prize, and Jon Tribble, a poet and managing editor of the “Crab Orchard Review” and series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.

WVU MFA graduates Renee Nicholson, the author of the soon-to-be-released book of poems “Roundabout Directions to Lincoln Center,” and Natalie Sypolt, another WVU MFA grad and the author of numerous published stories, will read Friday, July 18, at 1:30 p.m. in E. Moore Hall.

Allison Joseph, the author of six collections of poems, including “Imitation of Life” and “My Father’s Kite,” will read with Mark Brazaitis, the Workshop’s director and the author of six books, including the novel “Julia & Rodrigo” and the story collection “The Incurables,” Friday, July 18, at 8 p.m. in room 130 of Colson Hall.

The readings of published authors will conclude Saturday, July 19, at 1:30 p.m. in room 130 of Colson Hall, with Manilla’s reading. She will share the podium with James Harms, the chair of the Department of English and the author of 10 books of poems, including “The Joy Addict,” winner of the PEN/Revson Fellowship.

“We’re thrilled to have such great authors on campus,” Brazaitis said. “I urge anyone interested in good writing to come hear these outstanding poets, memoirists, and fiction writers. It’s great entertainment, and you can’t beat the price of admission.”

For more information, contact Mark Brazaitis at 304-293-9707 or or go to the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop Web site at


Check daily for the latest news from the University. Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.

9 Jul

Recognizing the growth during the past 20 years of forensic and investigative sciences as a career path, West Virginia University, long a national leader in the field, has established the Department of Forensic and Investigative Science.

Gerald Lang, of WVU’s Research Office, has been tapped to lead the new department.

“This change not only affirms the excellence and national reputation of our forensics program, but also paves the way for new academic programs and the expansion of research and outreach in forensic science,” said Robert Jones, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at WVU.

“Dr. Lang brings considerable administrative skill that will help the department realize its many opportunities for growth,” Jones said. “He played a major role in creating and launching WVU’s FIS program, and has also developed and launched new youth education programs in forensic science.”

In May, entrepreneur and philanthropist Ming Hsieh pledged $250,000 from the Hsieh Family Foundation over the next five years to support exemplary faculty in the department. The Ming Hsieh Faculty Development Fund will assist the Forensic and Investigative Science department in developing new research directions, enhance the student research experience, and support faculty seeking competitive research grant awards.

Since its creation in 1997, the program has been hailed in the national and international media for its teaching innovations. In addition to its 18,000-square-foot laboratory facility, crime scene training facility and faculty with more than 50 years of combined working experience in forensic laboratories, the department already boasts a rigorous curriculum and unique internship partnerships at top labs across the country.

“I am excited about the opportunity to serve as chair of the Department of Forensic and Investigative Science,” Lang said. “The national reputation of our undergraduate and graduate degree programs is evident as students from across the country come to study with our faculty. Our training programs to professionals in the field also receive national acclaim. My goal is to continue to make both traditional and non-traditional student education our number one priority.”

At the undergraduate level, students can choose from three areas of emphasis.

The forensic examiner track prepares students for positions as crime scene analysts, latent fingerprint examiners, forensic photographers, evidence technicians, investigators and law enforcement officers and agents.

The forensic biology track prepares students for positions in forensic labs as DNA analysts.

The forensic chemistry and toxicology track prepares students for positions in forensic labs as forensic chemists, arson analysts and investigators, forensic toxicologists and trace evidence examiners.

The master’s degree program is an extension of the forensic examiner track with emphasis on trace evidence, evidence interpretation and pattern evidence.

Both the undergraduate and master’s degree programs are accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Science – only six institutions offer accredited forensic science programs at both these levels.

In addition to the degree opportunities within the Department of Forensic and Investigative Science, WVU offers programs in:

Information Assurance and Biometrics, using retina and vocal-pattern scans and other genetic signatures as a definitive means of personal identification, through the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination, bringing white-collar criminals to justice by way of the cost ledger and computer hard drive, through the College of Business and Economics.

The Eberly College of Arts and Sciences also offers a bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Investigations. The major allows students to examine the sociology attached to criminal minds while also offering a practical primer of how investigations commence, from the crime scene to the courtroom.

For more information, contact Devon Copeland at 304.293.6867 or



3 Jul

The academic school year ends, but students in the Eberly College never stop learning.

Each summer, many students choose to brighten their futures and expand their education by completing summer internships.

These are their stories.

Story by Mike Atkinson

Cody Mullens, Senior
Hometown: Weirton, West Virginia
Major: Biology
How he’s spending his summer: The Ohio State University’s College of Medicine SUCCESS internship program.

What led you to WVU?

Coming to WVU was an easy decision for me. In a lot of ways it sort of came naturally; it was an assumption that I’d be a mountaineer. In some ways this made me uneasy about coming to WVU, but in time, it’s proven to be one of the smartest decisions in my life.

And how did you know WVU was right for you? once you were here?

My very first semester, my eyes were opened wide in terms of all that WVU has to offer, and after getting involved in all sorts of different things on campus, I was certain that I had made the right decision to become a Mountaineer.

Can you share a few experiences you’ve had while you were at WVU? Maybe something you’ll never forget that happened at WVU?

One of my favorite experiences at WVU was this past year’s student government election. I ran for the board of governors and was fortunate enough to win, but more importantly, I made some lifelong friends while being able to be engaged and very much in sync with the pulse of the student body. That was really cool.

Another of my favorite experiences at WVU has been my work and research with Dr. George Spirou on the Health Sciences campus. I’ve worked with him since my freshman year, and our research in our connectomics lab is just one example of a lot of the exciting research being done across all three campuses.

What was the most rewarding experience you’ve had at WVU?

I think the most rewarding experience at WVU has been working with the Medlife student organization. I have now been on two different mobile clinic trips with fellow WVU students where we have traveled to Peru to provide free aid in the form of healthcare and community service projects.

How did you hear about your internship?

I heard about the internship from my faculty advisor, and I’m not quite sure how I landed it. It was a pretty rigorous application process, and while applying, I was uncertain as to whether or not it was even worth the time I was putting into it, which it clearly was.

What are your career goals? What do you want to do after you graduate?

Following graduation, I plan to enroll in a dual degree M.D./Ph.D. program and eventually practice medicine while also conducting research within the realm of clinically applicable neuroscience.

How will this internship help you achieve those goals?

This internship is in all ways perfect for my career aspirations. The program is designed for students who are pre-M.D./Ph.D. During the program, we will be conducting primary scientific research, attending journal clubs, engaging in scientific talks, and getting clinical lab experience. In addition, the researcher I will be working with at Ohio State University is an M.D./Ph.D. so working with him and getting a grasp of the daily life of a physician scientist will be immensely valuable.

Do you have a favorite professor at WVU?

It’s a tie between Dr. Andrew Dacks and Dr. Dana Huebert Lima. I had Dr. Dacks for a systems neuroscience course this past semester, and I’ve never had a professor who lectured in such a captivating way. I can’t wait to have him for basic neurobiology in the fall!

Dr. Huebert Lima is somebody who has been involved in all aspects of my college career. I’ve had her in class, I’ve TA’d for her, she’s my faculty advisor for my student organization, Medlife, and she is my academic advisor. There’s no faculty member at WVU who has worked closer with me to help me obtain my goals at WVU as well as my career goals for the future.

Want to be featured in our summer series? Email with details about your internship.

30 Jun
1404141286_md A team of astronomers, including two from West Virginia University, have made a very cool discovery.

Duncan Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin, professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, using the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope and other instruments have identified the coldest, faintest white dwarf star ever detected.

This ancient stellar remnant is so cool that its carbon has crystalized, forming—in effect— an Earth size diamond in space.

The story began when WVU graduate student Jason Boyles, now a visiting assistant professor at Western Kentucky University, discovered a rapidly rotating star called a pulsar with the GBT. He determined that the pulsar had a companion star, and the team undertook optical observations to search for it.

Any “normal” star like the sun, Lorimer said, should have easily been visible. But nothing was detected, implying that the companion is a white dwarf, a star roughly the size of the Earth, with a mass similar to the sun.

“The interesting thing about white dwarfs is that they’re actually solid objects. It’s not like the sun, which is a ball of gas. These stars are very, very dense, and because they don’t burn, they’ve got no new heat source. What they’re actually doing is cooling down,” he said.

“They were initially very hot, but over time they’ve cooled down. If you could measure how hot the star was, and you knew how fast it was cooling down, you could figure out how old the star was.”

White dwarfs are the extremely dense end-states of stars like the sun that have collapsed to form an object approximately the size of the Earth. Composed of mostly carbon and oxygen, white dwarfs slowly cool and fade over billions of years. The object in this new study is likely the same age as the Milky Way, approximately 11 billion years old.

Pulsars are rapidly spinning neutron stars, the superdense remains of massive stars that have exploded as supernovas. As neutron stars spin, lighthouse-like beams of radio waves, streaming from the poles of its powerful magnetic field, sweep through space. When one of these beams sweeps across the Earth, radio telescopes can capture the pulse of radio waves.

The pulsar companion to this white dwarf, dubbed PSR J2222-0137, was the first object in this system to be detected.

The team learned that the temperature of the dwarf star was less than 3,000 degrees Kelvin, which is very cold for a star of this nature. White Dwarf stars, Lorimer said, are usually between 10,000 and 15,000 degrees Kelvin.

“The white dwarf is so cool, it challenges the way we think about how these stars cool. It can’t be any older than the galaxy. It can’t be too cool; otherwise it would have been formed before the galaxy. What we think has happened is that it has entered the crystallized cooling regime in which white dwarfs cool very efficiently. This is one of the first times that this has been observed.”

The lead author of the project is David Kaplan, professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. A paper describing these results was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

For more information, contact Duncan Lorimer at 304-293-4867 or

26 Jun
DSC_0010 The branches that initiate near the base of grass plants, called tillers, could hold the key to a more efficient way to create biomass that can ultimately be converted into biofuel.

Jennifer Hawkins, assistant professor of biology at West Virginia University, is working with a team of researchers from Oklahoma State University, the University of California—Berkeley, and Brigham Young University to examine the genetic controls of tillering in corn, sorghum and foxtail millet.

The project is funded by a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program.

“An understanding of the genetic controls of tiller growth and development will assist in the engineering or breeding of plants for biomass accumulation. These plants could become valuable bioenergy crops,” Hawkins said.

Using traditional genetic research methods, Hawkins will sequence the genomes of a population of sorghum plants to see which genetic components most often associate with the presence of multiple branches (tillers).

“During the domestication process, humans selected plants for high grain production. Growing as many plants as possible in the smallest area results in more grain per acre, but also often leads to reduced tillering.”

“Domesticated plants are, therefore, excellent models for studying tillering because they can be directly compared to their wild ancestors that produce abundant tillers and generate large amounts of biomass,” Hawkins said.

Sorghum is a potential energy crop that offers the opportunity to produce a considerable amount of biomass in a short growing season. Similarly corn, which uses the same farming practices, is a well-known producer of considerable amounts of the biomass that can be converted into various forms of biofuel.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced up to $14.5 million in funding for bioenergy programs made available through the 2014 Farm Bill. The investments, officials said, signaled a continued commitment by the Obama Administration to support bio-based technologies, enhanced rural economic development and the conversion of fossil fuel systems to renewable biomass fuel systems.

For more information contact Jennifer Hawkins at 304-293-0795 or

24 Jun
Andrew_Photo The wiring of the fruit fly olfactory system, otherwise known as its sense of smell, is offering insight into an alternative way the human nervous system can be altered to respond differently to varying conditions.

Andrew Dacks, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at West Virginia University, said altering the way a neuron responds to stimulus, known as neuromodulation, offers the nervous system flexibility. Neuromodulation occurs throughout the nervous system and, not surprisingly, is critical for healthy brain function.

“You could have a road map of the town of Morgantown, but without knowing the time of day, time of year or weather conditions, you will never be able to predict the amount of time it will take to drive from the Suncrest Town Center to Dorsey’s Knob Park. The map stays the same, but the way cars are able to travel on the map is altered,” he said.

“That’s what neuromodulation gives you — flexibility to adjust how a neural network functions in different situations.”

As Dacks maps out which neuromodulatory receptors influence which neurons using the fruit flies, he said he’s able to determine the effects on how the nervous system processes information. The implications could ultimately reveal general principles about the human nervous system.

Many groups of neurons in a nervous system express the same neuromodulatory receptor, making it challenging to understand how a receptor expressed by one group of neurons contributes to the total effects of neuromodulation.

“Let’s say a receptor is expressed in the part of the nervous system that controls walking and the sense of smell, and you get rid of this receptor throughout the whole body of the animal,” Dacks said.

“Lo and behold, the animals are no longer attracted to the odor. Is that because they can’t walk properly anymore? Or is it because it’s affected their sense of smell?”

Using fruit flies, it is possible to manipulate neuromodulatory receptors expressed in specific groups of neurons without affecting the rest of the nervous system.

“This allows us to have a highly directed approach where we can target our manipulation right to specific parts of the brain.”

Exploring the nervous system of the fruit fly, Dacks said, has allowed his team to study the consequences of neuromodulation for odor coding.

The project is funded for three years by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

For more information, contact Andrew Dacks at 304-293-3205 or

13 Jun

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University English Professor Mark Brazaitis novel “Julia & Rodrigo” is a finalist for both the 2014 Ohioana Book Award (for fiction) and ForeWord Reviews 2013 Book of the Year Award (for multicultural literature).

Set during the Guatemalan Civil War, “Julia & Rodrigo” tells the story of Julia García and Rodrigo Rax, teenagers determined to marry each other despite family objections and differences of class, religion, and culture. MarkBrazaitis

Writing about “Julia & Rodrigo” in “Peace Corps Worldwide,” Ann Neelon said,

“In propping up military dictators, the United States certainly did its part in exacerbating the class differences that led to untold violence in Guatemala. I could be didactic here and remind readers that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing apace in the United States. There’s no time like the present to read ‘Julia & Rodrigo’ — and so on.

The novel, however, is not a polemic about Guatemala. It is a love story. Thus I think I would be much truer to Brazaitis’ purposes if I simply recommended ‘Julia & Rodrigo’ to anyone who has ever fallen in love and to anyone who ever will.”

The Ohioana Awards, established in 1942, honor Ohio authors in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, juvenile literature, and, when appropriate, books about Ohio and Ohioans. Brazaitis was born in East Cleveland, Ohio.

Among this year’s Ohioana Award finalists are a Pulitzer Prize winner, a National Book Award finalist, and a Grammy nominee. “Julia & Rodrigo” is competing against five other books of fiction, including the novel “Middle C” by William H. Gass, a past winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Book Award.

For the ForeWord Reviews 2013 Book of the Year Award in multicultural literature, “Julia & Rodrigo” is up against nine other finalists.

“It’s always a thrill to have one’s work recognized,” Brazaitis said. “Anything that draws potential readers is a plus.”

For more information, contact Mark Brazaitis at 304-293-9707 or



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