Using Chemistry to Solve Mysteries: A Look into the Field of Forensic Chemistry

We hear all the time about the work forensic chemists do. For example, it might be reported on the news that a medical examiner’s office ruled that a victim’s cause of death was foul play, or that investigators with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have identified new synthetic drugs. Whether it occurs to a viewer or not, in each of these cases, a team of forensic scientists collected samples, ran a series of tests, and analyzed the results to make their determinations.

Before I go further, let me take a step back and answer the question: what exactly is forensic chemistry? Simply put, forensic chemistry is a sub-discipline of the forensic sciences that uses methods of chemical analysis to examine physical evidence to help solve crimes or mysteries. A forensic chemist will use their skillsets to identify substances found within, on, or near bodies during investigations of crime scenes.

Elle Woods: definitely NOT a forensic chemist, but, somehow, still correct!

Elle Woods: definitely NOT a forensic chemist, but, somehow, still correct!

As you can imagine, this field of science has an incredibly important place in our society. These chemists play a vital role in our criminal justice system, but their potential is not limited to crime scenes or crime labs, despite what the creators of ‘CSI’ might want you to believe. Our world is full of mysteries, and forensic chemists can help us solve many of them. For example, a forensic chemist might analyze fossil remains to help determine where a species originated, or they might study the chemical composition of paint to determine the authenticity of a piece of art.

If you’re asking yourself how you can become a “modern day Sherlock,” we’re here to help! Whether you’re working in a crime lab analyzing gunshot residue or you are taking samples of paint from the Mona Lisa, you’re applying many of the same concepts you learned in your undergraduate studies. Forensic scientists working in the field typically have a background in chemistry and biology, with an emphasis on instrumental analysis. Many receive on-the-job training to help them specialize within their offices. Most forensic chemists spend their careers working in federal, state, or county labs. Some have a close association with the medical examiner’s office. Some move on to become lab directors or lead investigators.

Finding a job as a forensic chemist might be more difficult these days, because the portrayal of the forensic sciences in the media has increased interest in the field. With that being said, the demand for forensic chemists is on the rise. If this is a career that interests you, I would recommend using ACS’ Get Experience database to find opportunities in forensic chemistry that might be a good fit for you.

ctc-logo-SMNTo learn more about forensic chemistry and what it means to be a forensic chemist, visit the ACS College-to-Career website. We’ve gathered additional career data, salary and hiring prospects, and posted profiles of professional forensic chemists.



National Chemistry Week: Solving Mysteries through Chemistry

1471292544430Happy National Chemistry Week!

Every year, chemists around the United States (and in certain other countries as well) celebrate National Chemistry Week (NCW) and the field of chemistry. Whether we’re diving into the “sweet side of chemistry” or taking a closer look at how chemistry colors our world, participating in NCW celebrations help us to understand how chemistry shapes the world we live in.

By promoting and building awareness at the local level, NCW encourages chemists of all ages to get involved. Through ACS local sections, ACS student chapters, universities, and businesses, ACS hopes to expand the awareness of the many facets of chemistry, and invites individuals to host events for their own communities.

Starting on October 16, the ACS Undergraduate Programs office will celebrate the theme, ‘Solving Mysteries through Chemistry,’ with a week-long look into ways chemistry has helped us ‘crack the case.’ We’ll post a new topic each day and share activities for you to complete with your chapters and communities.

Our NCW posts will include such titles as:

  • What is Forensic Chemistry?
  • Forensic Chemistry in Pop Culture
  • Historical and Archaeological Forensics
  • Art Forgeries
  • Chemistry of Modern Mass Extinctions
  • Epidemiology: Chasing Diseases

Keep an eye on the #ReactionsBlog all week and let us know how you plan to join in the celebration!

Remember to share your photos and stories with us on Instagram and Twitter.

Bonding in the City of Brotherly Love- Thanks, Philly!

Hey Undergrads!

My name is Alex Goranov, and I am the Student Liaison to the Undergraduate Programs Advisory Board—the committee responsible for the incredible undergraduate events at the 252nd American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in Philly. I loved the conference and would like to briefly recap my experiences.

Independence Hall National Historic Park Philadelphia

Independence Hall National Historic Park Philadelphia

I began my day at the Undergraduate Hospitality Center. While fueling myself with coffee, I met with the student volunteers for the Undergraduate Program, whose tremendous contributions were much appreciated.

A number of sessions on the first day of the undergraduate program were designed to help students interested in attending graduate school. My favorite speaker, Dr. Sam Pazicni, gave an amazing talk during the Graduate School Reality Check sessions. I was inspired by the stories of the panelists our program chair, Dr. Michelle Boucher, had invited.

In the afternoon, I attended the Networking Social with Graduate School Recruiters event, which is a not-to-miss event if you are looking to apply for a graduate program. Don’t worry if you missed it, as it will be included again at the next ACS National Meeting!

The second day of the program was even more exciting! The two workshops in the morning were a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the discussion and liked that the audience participated actively with the panelists. Hearing stories from all the different students and professionals was definitely view-broadening.

Instead of having lunch off-site, I went to the Eminent Scientist Lecture and Luncheon. The lecture was given by Dr. Tobin Marks, who was recently honored with ACS`s highest award—the Priestley Medal. His talk on “How to Make Plastic Transistors and Solar Cells” was quite impressive! He explained his research in depth and showed us how fast materials science advances. I am eager to see what the world will look like in 10 years if we employ his plastics!

After lunch, I was able to view everyone’s undergraduate research work at the undergraduate research poster session. Everyone has done such a great job with their research over the past year, and I am looking forward to hearing more talks about published papers during the upcoming ACS National Meetings.

Our program ended with the Student Speed Networking with Chemistry Professionals event. I have participated in this event before, and it is probably my favorite one! My friends said it was a great experience learning how to professionally introduce themselves, and they received useful advice from professionals in the academic, government, and industry sectors.

I am already looking forward to the next ACS National Meeting, which will be in San Francisco from April 2 to 6, 2017. If you missed any of these amazing events, or have a piece of research you would like to present in sunny California, be sure to apply for the travel grants given by the ACS Undergraduate Programs Office. I hope to see you all there next year!

Best wishes,

Alex Goranov
Student Liaison, ACS Undergraduate Programs Advisory Board







A How to Guide for Speed Networking at the Philly National Meeting!

While at the 252nd ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia, you’ll have a chance to participate in the “Student Speed Networking with Chemistry Professionals” event, which will give you the rare opportunity to meet tons of chemists and peers in a short amount of time. Join us on Monday, August 22 from 4-5:30 PM in the Pennsylvania Convention Center Hall G to take advantage of this great opportunity!

To help prepare you, we’ve put together some tips that will help you navigate the event and maximize the time spent in each short networking round.


  • Choose a seat at any table where a chemistry professional is sitting.
  • Look for color coded tent cards at each table to help you to identify chemists.

Industrial: Green  ٠ Government: Blue  ٠ Academia: Yellow  ∙ Nonprofit: White

  • Each networking round will last approximately 6 minutes.
  • When prompted, students will switch tables and talk to a different chemistry professional.
  • Feel free to take a break between sessions. Free snacks, drinks, and career resources are provided.
  • A 30 minute free networking session will take place at the conclusion of the speed networking rounds so you can continue discussions or talk to people you hadn’t had the chance to meet yet.


  • Prepare your “elevator speech” – You’ll need to give a 30-second introduction of yourself.
    -Your name
    -Your school and level of education
    -What you are studying
    Your educational and career goals (long and short term)
  • Know what you want to get from the conversations and be ready to tell the professionals what that is.
  • Be an active listener. Be curious and ask open-ended questions. For example:
  1. How they obtained their first job in chemistry
  2. How they became interested in their fields
  3. If they went to graduate school
  4. What they like best about their job
  5. If they have any advice to share
  • Talk to as many professionals as time allows – each will have different personal experiences and perspectives.
  • Exchange business cards (if you have them). Ask for a business card when closing the conversation.
  • Follow up! When you get home, send a “thank you” e-mail or a question if you have one. If you have a LinkedIn account, connect with the professionals on LinkedIn. Stay in touch. This will help you to build your professional network.
  • Take note of helpful advice and tips you receive. Share this information with others you know when you return to school and home. Network and seek more information from others you meet.

We look forward to seeing you there!

A Guide to Successful Membership Recruiting

Chapter officers and faculty advisors share their ideas for obtaining new members

Inter American University of Puerto Rico

Inter American University of Puerto Rico

People are the heart of any ACS student chapter. Without new members to take on active roles, chapters can languish as older members graduate and move on. New members infuse vitality, skills, and experiences that ca

n benefit the chapter itself, the institution, and the broader community. Recruiting new members for your ACS student chapter can sometimes seem like a daunting challenge on a college campus, but having an active recruitment program is vital for your chapter’s success.

For many successful chapters, the first step is to form a membership committee charged with creating a recruitment strategy (sometimes, this same committee is also responsible for carrying out the planned recruitment activities). Below, chapter officers and faculty advisors describe how they are successfully recruiting new chapter members.

Target freshmen

Consider recruiting incoming freshmen as chapter members. While many upperclassmen are over-extended with activities, freshmen are often an eager, but untapped, resource with few extracurricular commitments.

Some chapters begin recruiting freshmen during the summer, weeks before the fall term begins. Recruitment activities at The University of St. Thomas, Texas begin in July during the Science and Mathematics Summer Institute for entering freshmen. The chapter also has a booth at the Freshman Orientation Fair in August, before classes start. At both events, prospective members receive a brochure describing the advantages of becoming a chapter member, a listing of past activities, and planned activities for the upcoming year.

The student chapter at Xavier University of Louisiana also extends the welcome mat to freshmen before classes begin, sending invitations to all incoming new chemistry majors to join the ACS student chapter and participate in the university’s mentoring program for first-year students.

Veteran chapter members at the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) add a personal touch to encourage freshmen majoring in chemistry and biochemistry to join the chapter by contacting them through Facebook or by e-mail. The members introduce themselves and attach their photo. If the freshmen later attend a meeting, they will see a familiar face and feel welcome. The chapter also teams up veteran members with new members during magic shows and other events. This also helps to break down the “age barrier” between freshmen and upperclassmen.

Believe it or not, sugar can also be used attract freshmen to your chapter. At the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), freshmen are invited to attend the student chapter’s Saccharide Social. This fall event gives freshmen an opportunity to check out the chapter in an informal setting while enjoying sweet treats. Members set up a small fire pit so guests can make s’mores. They also provide caramel apples, apple cider, and a few other treats for prospective members to enjoy.

The UMBC chapter also pairs potential members with experienced members and takes advantage of the ACS Member-Get-A-Member program. Not only do the students enjoy receiving the periodic table of elements blanket throws and backpacks, it’s also a way for members to interact with one another as well as meet some of the chemistry faculty.

Visit chemistry classes

The ACS student chapter at South Texas College begins its membership recruitment activities on the first day of classes each semester. Members visit the general chemistry and organic chemistry classes and talk to the students about the chapter and the benefits of becoming a member. They distribute ACS membership applications and copies of C&EN and inChemistry to the students and pass around sign-up sheets so they can later contact interested students. Because South Texas College is an ACS student chapter at a two-year college, there is a greater student turnover rate than at a four-year institution — making member recruitment an ongoing necessity.

Participate in student involvement fairs

Involvement fairs also provide wonderful member recruiting opportunities. Each fall, the Campbell University student chapter participates in a campus street fair organized by the university. All university clubs and many organizations and companies from the surrounding area participate. The fair primarily serves as a way to introduce incoming students to the various clubs and opportunities around the campus. Chapter members pass out informational flyers and talk with students about joining the chapter. Participating in this event helps to bring in new members and increase the chapter’s visibility among students, faculty, and the community.

Provide incentives to join

Aquinas College

Aquinas College

Extra credit in chemistry class and food can also lure new members. At UDM, the ACS student chapter holds an annual fall recruitment barbeque, providing free hot dogs, soda, and other treats to passersby. To encourage science majors to attend, students from freshman and sophomore level courses have the opportunity to pick a random number of one-to-three bonus points for attending the barbeque, sign up on the club list server and have a small meet-and-greet with a veteran club member.

Offer a valuable resource

Offering a helping hand to new students when it’s needed most is also an excellent way to obtain new members. The student chapter at the University of Southern Indiana (USI) created the ACS Student Guide to the USI Chemistry Department booklet, which they distribute to new chemistry majors each year. This guide welcomes the students to the university and invites them to the chapter’s first meeting of the year. It includes photos from chapter events; lists benefits of becoming an ACS member; provides biographies and photos of faculty members; and lists important contact information. The guide also includes “A Beginner’s Survival Guide for Chemistry Classes” — tips and guidelines for succeeding as a chemistry major. (to see a copy of the student guide, visit the USI chapter website at

Create Good Buzz

When potential members hear good things about a chapter from a trusted source, they are very likely to join. East Stroudsburg University employs word of mouth to spread the word to potential members about the chapter. Chapter members invite their friends to become members and instructors of junior and senior-level courses encourage their students to join the chapter. The East Stroudsburg University student chapter also holds its meetings in a public space, and it has recruited several passersby to join.

Begin chapter activities right away

Belmont University

Belmont University

It also pays to recruit members before they commit themselves to other campus activities. At the start of the fall term, the Xavier University of Louisiana chapter begins its first fund-raising activity: visiting all of the general chemistry lectures and lab courses to sell periodic tables and rules to students. Members introduce themselves to the students and invite them to attend the first chapter meeting. Adding to the momentum, the first meeting takes place the first week of school. Last fall, more than 100 students attended the meeting.

Create a welcoming atmosphere

Veteran members at the University of Arizona actively strive to create a friendly atmosphere for incoming new members. The veterans realize that devising a membership strategy that brings new members into their chapter is just the first step of an ongoing membership process. Every officer is encouraged to “meet and greet” new faces after each meeting is adjourned. This goes a long way toward retaining new and old members alike and keeping the chapter strong and active.

Whether you use some of all of these recruitment activities — or come up with effective ones all your own — it’s important to the health of your chapter to keep attracting new members. Not only will they make the activities you undertake this year more fun and rewarding … they’ll also be there to carry on the momentum you created after you move on to the next phase of your career!

Contributing to this article were Michael R. Adams (Xavier University of Louisiana), Ludivina Avila (South Texas College), Tara Carpenter (UMBC), Ben Dyer (Campbell University), Thomas B. Mall oy, Jr. (University of St. Thomas), Matthew J. Mio (UDM), Brett Stoll (University of Arizona).

Presenting a Poster: The Do’s and Don’ts

Presenting a poster can sometimes be intimidating. Here at ACS, we want to ensure that your experience presenting a poster is both a fun and rewarding one. Therefore, we talked with Dr. Brent Znosko, Professor of Chemistry at Saint Louis University, about presenting undergraduate research, and he provided the following advice.

  1. Know your research: Although you may have done all of the bench work, do you understand the mechanisms and background of your research? If not, now is the time to dig into the literature and to seek help from your advisor to understand the reasoning behind each of your laboratory steps and the larger picture of your project.
  2. Prepare your elevator speech: A 60-second summary of what you did, why you did it, and your results.
  3. Practice, practice, practice: You should practice your “elevator speech” to yourself, lab mates, friends, and family. It can be helpful to present to people without a chemistry background. For example, a group of middle school students were touring our new science building, and their teacher asked me about my research. To explain my work with protein affinity tags, I talked about eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. Whenever you eat a bowl of Lucky Charms, all you really want are the marshmallows; this is analogous to my research because we want to pick out specific proteins from a mixture. Bazinga!The kids understood my research! Practice your elevator speech to others, and you will be prepared for whoever walks up to your poster.
  4. Designing your poster: The key to a great poster is a single, cohesive story summarizing your research project by showing the key results that support your conclusion and demonstrate the originality of your work. (See the February 2012 issue of )
  5. Dressing for success: Potential employers and graduate school recruiters come by the poster sessions, so you want to look professional and confident. For both men and women, I suggest going for solid colors for tops and black or blue for pants—a conservative and classic look.

For men, black pants/slacks, a button-down shirt (long sleeve), and a tie is ideal. Also, nice brown or black shoes are important—ditch the sneakers for today.

poster session

For women, the best combinations are black pants/skirt with a nice shirt (short sleeve or long sleeve) or a dress that is close to knee length. It’s important to wear nothing that is too clingy. You want your work to be on display, not your figure. Also, low heels (no taller than 3 inches) or flats are best. You will be standing up and walking all day.

  1. Print business cards: Now that you have practiced and look you the part, you should be prepared to share your contact information. You can get 250 cards custom printed at Staples for $6!

To make sure you’re ready to go, here’s an ACS National Meeting Poster Presenter checklist:

  • Notecards to practice your speech
  • Poster (seems obvious, but double check!)
  • Flash drive that contains a copy of your poster file
  • Printed materials (your poster number, confirmation, etc.)
  • Hotel and flight itineraries
  • Appropriate outfit
  • Business cards and a portfolio with copies of your resume
  • Pen and a notebook (who knows when inspiration could strike!)

252nd ACS National Meeting: The Chemists Are Coming!

Philly BannerThe Philadelphia National Meeting is right around the corner. For many of you, this will be your first time attending a national meeting with your professional association. National meetings have a lot going on and, admittedly, can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t worry! We’ve put together a list of things you can do now to help your trip to Philly go as smoothly as possible.

Step One: Book Your Travel

One perk of traveling to a national meeting with an association is that oftentimes the organization will have arranged for travel discounts for those attending the meeting. The staff at ACS has secured discounts with Delta, United Airlines, Southwest, and Amtrak. Car rental discounts have also been arranged through Avis and Hertz.

Getting around Philadelphia can be a bit confusing. There are plenty of taxis around, and Philadelphia offers extensive public transportation. ACS offers free shuttles between the Pennsylvania Convention Center and ACS hotels. The travel time between the convention center and the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown, home to the Undergraduate Program, is approximately 15 minutes.

Most hotels are full, but if you move quickly, there might be time to reserve a hotel room using the ACS group discount.

Step Two: Register for the Meeting

Getting registered is easy! You can register online with your ACS ID, or you can register by mail.

Registration is $210 for students who are nonmembers, but only $105 for members (you can become an undergraduate member of ACS for only $27).

Step Three: Plan Your Trip

The ACS Undergraduate Programs team has prepared an excellent program for students. From undergrad poster sessions to graduate school networking, we’ve packed the weekend with events designed with the needs of young chemistry professionals in mind.

ACS meetings typically bring in 13,000–15,000 chemists from across the world. These meetings are excellent opportunities to expand your knowledge of the chemical industry and make connections that could prove valuable for your future.

With so many opportunities for networking, you’ll want to be sure to dress to impress. However, unless you’re presenting research that day, don’t worry about wearing a suit the whole time you’re in Philadelphia. Business casual is absolutely acceptable.

Pull out a decent suit, or at least a nice jacket/button-down shirt/slacks (or skirt) combo, for presentation day. Think khakis, slacks, and business skirts for the rest of your meeting time. People are less likely to think you are serious about your future if you show up to a session wearing a T-shirt and jeggings.

Step Four: Stay Connected

If you don’t already, follow the ACS Undergraduate Programs Office on social media. We will be tweeting and posting fun photos and program updates throughout the convention, as well as sharing students’ posts. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #ACSPhillyUG.

Twitter: @ACSUndergrad
Facebook: ACS Undergrad Programs
Instagram: @ACSUndergrad
Snapchat: ACSUndergrad

ACS member and staff representative Dr. Ashley Donovan will be running from Washington, DC to Philadelphia, PA from August 7 through August 16. Along the way, she will visit various schools to learn how members are preparing for the National Meeting and will share ACS resources available to students and faculty. Keep up with Ashley here!

We are incredibly proud of the undergraduate program that we have created for the 252nd ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia, and we think you’ll enjoy your experience too. See you on the 21st!