Friday, February 5, 2016

FWS Student Highlights: Courtney Whitman

I started working with Dr. Joris van der Ham on his forensic entomology project in September 2015, the start of my sophomore year. In forensic entomology, the rate of decomposition of living organisms is typically determined by the certain “age” of insects found on that organism. The project I have been a part of wants to determine whether or not using the number of different insect species in their adult form is a feasible way to determine rate of decomposition.

In the summer of 2015, two pig heads were placed on campus and the insects that congregated on the heads were collected everyday over the course of a month or so. Though I was not there for the collection of the insects, I spend my time sorting, identifying, and counting the organisms found in each sample date. I also record all the data collected into online programs, which makes it possible to see the correlation between the number and types of insect species and how those numbers relate to the rate of decomposition.

Although forensic entomology isn’t directly in line with my environmental science major, the skills I have learned from this project will be tremendously beneficial to me in my future endeavors. For example, knowing the family, genus, and species of various organisms and knowing how to identify them may very well be of use to me, depending on what I decide to make my career. The critical thinking skills I’m learning that are necessary to understand the data collected and what it means when looking at the big picture of the project will also go a long way to help me become a better scientist. As a whole, I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a research project so early in my college career and am excited to see what the end result of the research will be.