By Kerry Steinhofer
This article is part of a series featuring Centre College’s 2018 John C. Young Scholars. Centre’s JCY program, now in its 28th year, is designed to serve highly motivated seniors, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.
Danville native and John C. Young Scholar (JCY) Vrinda Desai, a physics major, has been conducting research that may be invaluable to the justice system in her project titled “Improving Forensic Analysis of Blood Spatter Through Fluid Dynamics.”
She came across a research group that had done experiments on the prediction of blood spatter from a gunshot, “and this group had made some basic assumptions,” Desai said. “One of these assumptions was to treat blood as a newtonian fluid, since so little is known about the effects of the non-newtonian properties as blood exists the wound.”
Desai, along with Bruce Rodenborn, assistant professor of physics, were intrigued with this assumption, they wanted to see how great of a difference this assumption would make in their own calculations.
“I study fluid dynamics but did not realize that the state of the art in studying blood spatter evidence is well behind our current knowledge of fluids,” Rodenborn said. “Vrinda showed me a recent (2015) research paper that described how forensic models only recently added air drag and gravity, which was surprising because they would have an obvious impact on the results.”
Desai said she believes that further research will be able to help better recreate scenarios based off of the blood spatter at a crime scene, which can then be used in court to help catch the criminal.
The research process has been exciting, frustrating and fun all at the same time for Desai.
“Finding a way to work with real blood was probably the most frustrating, because Centre is not equipped with a room for a biological hazard, such as blood,” she explained. “I spent the entire first semester not working with blood and trying to find other substitutes that would be able to mimic blood in its non-newtonian properties.”
Desai’s biggest takeaway from her project is that success is not determined by getting it right the first time, but by the process of learning through failures and setbacks. While experiencing the struggles of conducting research, she has learned how to use the resources around her to her advantage. Fortunately, this semester, Desai was able to work at the Central Forensic Laboratory in Frankfort, Kentucky.
“Overall, this has been fun, because I have played around with high-speed videography and have learned so much about it,” she added. “I have also gotten to know people from around the community and have received help from them in terms of expertise and resources.”
Throughout the course of the project, Desai was grateful to have Rodenborn as her faculty mentor. She said he believed in her and made sure that she knew setbacks were all part of the process and not due to inexperience or a lack of knowledge.
“Vrinda is an impressive budding scientist who will be joining the University of North Carolina’s Graduate Physics Program next year,” Rodenborn said. “My work with Vrinda informed me about a very interesting subject, and in fact, was a primary reason she decided to apply for graduate study in physics.
“Research mentorship is a rewarding process because of the close interaction with the student and seeing her growth,” he continued. “It also rewards the mentor with an increased depth of knowledge in the subject the student pursues.”