Forensics Lab Makes “Awesome College Labs” List

August 25, 2010
By Cherry Crayton
Ann Ross works with a student during a lab. (Photo courtesy of NC State News Services)

Ann Ross works with a student during a lab. (Photo courtesy of NC State News Services)

Popular Science magazine has tabbed a forensics analysis lab taught by NC State anthropologist Ann Ross (pictured above) as one of the “30 Most Awesome College Labs” in the nation. In Popular Science’s online gallery counting down the labs, the magazine writes about Ross’ lab, No. 28 in the list:

Months after a county cleanup crew found a skeleton in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, forensic anthropologist Ann Ross and her students zeroed in on an incisor. It established what other investigators couldn’t: that the deceased was Elizabeth Smallwood, the sixth victim of the Edgecombe serial killer.

When new cases come in, students help Ross recover bones and collect data. Factors they consider include preservation, as in a frozen pond, or exposure to the sun, all of which can help establish time since death. The bulk of the student’s work — even the undergrads — is analyzing unidentified human remains to create what’s called a biological profile. To establish ancestry, they look at facial structure or map the skull using 3-D software that Ross co-created. “It’s the element of mystery that gets them,” Ross says of her students. “But I think it’s being the voice for those who can no longer defend themselves that keeps them.”

NC State magazine included Ross’ Introduction to Forensic Anthropology class among its list of the 20 most engaging courses taught at NC State in its Spring 2009 issue. The NCSU.edu homepage featured six of the classes from our “20 Reasons to go to Class” list last year. Check that out here.

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