UAlbany Student Research: Justine Giffen Ph.D. ’17


(music starts) Everybody deals with death, but not that many
people actually know anything about it. I’m Justine. I’m a 5th year Ph.D. student at the University
at Albany, and I study flies and dead bodies. (sound of flies buzzing) Insects can actually find dead bodies 5 or
15 minutes after a death occurs. It’s very very fast. (sound of flies buzzing) Forensic investigators don’t have any information
about that narrow window right after death occurs, so that’s where we’re coming in with
our chemistry knowledge for the purpose of figuring out when the death occurred. My research lab is looking at different types
of carrion flowers or corpse flowers. And these flowers have a very cool evolutionary
advantage that they actually produce smells very similar to decaying bodies. Not very pleasant for humans, but they’re
ideal for bringing in blow flies that are usually attracted to decomposing bodies. So what we’re looking at for this project
is what is specifically attracting the insects to the flower. Seeing how they know when someone has passed
away. So we use the analytical technique DART. Direct Analysis in Real Time. And it will tell you what these chemicals
are that come off the flower that signal the change when death occurs. I’m a lot more interested in the forensic
side of chemistry analysis. And I think it kind of goes back to my dad
being a detective. Where he could go on the scene. Find someone that passed away, figure out
what happened, use his detective skills. So that was something that was always really
interesting to me of being able to help someone in a situation I could use my specials skills
for, my chemistry knowledge now. University at Albany has been really great
for helping me in my journey. It’s more about the process of learning. Getting those skills and techniques of being
able to solve problems on your feet. And that’s what I like about it, is that I’m
in uncharted territory. I can solve something, I can know something
that no one else in the world has known before.