An Eastern Kentucky University senior was the only undergraduate student presenter among poster contestants at the recent International Association for Identification (IAI) conference, and came away the winner.
Courtney Norris, a forensic chemistry major and McNair Scholar from Lexington, captured first place and received $200 from EVIDENT for her poster titled “Analysis of Electronic Cigarette Vapor by Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART) Mass Spectrometry.” Her faculty mentor was Dr. Darrin Smith, chair of EKU’s Department of Chemistry.
“I was trying to find if there is more than propylene glycol, nicotine and glycerin in the vapor – which is what is listed on the liquid bottle,” Norris said. “We identified 33 compounds, and there were 31 more compounds unidentified. This means there are at least 64 chemicals in the vapor. This experiment did not test for compounds weighing less than 50 atomic mass units, so I’m sure there are more, with possibilities such as ethanol, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.
“Many consumers are using e-cigs assuming they are safer,” Norris continued. "There are less chemicals, but e-cigs leave more of a residue, which is what would be clogging the users’ lungs. Further research does need to be done on the biological effects, because e-cigs may not be any safer.”
Norris, a 2012 graduate of Henry Clay High School, credited Smith for his guidance.
“He was my mentor through the project,” she said. “He led me through developing new methods, performing research, analysis, and creating my poster. I learned the importance of a mentor, how to research, how to write a research and present a poster, and how dangerous e-cigs are.
“Dr. Smith made sure I knew what I was doing, that I was being safe, and he helped me develop methods I would have never thought of on my own. I was able to work one-on-one with Dr. Smith. I didn’t have to work with graduate students who were under a mentor. I didn’t have to work in a group, and I was able to develop my own project, rather than joining one that was already in progress.”
Norris said the McNair Scholar program “has been the biggest blessing through my college career. McNair has taught me how to prepare for graduate school, how to interview, how to present. They paid for me to visit a grad program, they paid for my research, and they paid for me to go to the conference. If it wasn’t for McNair, this research would not have been possible.”
For more information about the McNair Scholar program, visit mcnair.eku.edu.
After graduation, Norris plans to pursue a Ph.D. degree in criminology or toxicology in hopes of becoming a federal crime scene investigator or FBI special agent. “I want to focus in drugs and homicide and give the dead a voice,” she said.
For more information about EKU’s forensic chemistry program, visit forensicscience.eku.edu.
The International Association for Identification (www.theiai.org) is the oldest and largest forensic association in the world. Its 101st International Educational Conference was held in Cincinnati, Ohio.