The Charger Blog

Forensic Science Majors Pursue Groundbreaking Fieldwork in Curaçao

Three students visited the Caribbean island this summer, conducting research as part of their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship projects and networking with scientists from around the world.

September 19, 2019

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Curaçao scenery.
Students enjoyed the tropical scenery while visiting Curaçao.

While visiting the Caribbean island of Curaçao this summer, Courtney Newberry ’20 placed pig remains on land and in the ocean so that she and her classmates could monitor them. They studied their decomposition, as well as which animals scavenged them. Newberry compared her data to what she found when conducting similar research in Connecticut.

"I learned how to conduct field research and that it never goes exactly as expected – no matter how much planning goes into it," said Newberry. "The experience enabled me to learn about taphonomy and field research firsthand."

Image of Courtney Newberry ’20
Courtney Newberry ’20 conducted field research as part of her SURF project.

An important component of forensic science, taphonomy is the study of an organism’s decomposition process. Studying decomposition enables forensic scientists to gather important information during an investigation, such as time of death and the impact environmental factors have on decomposition.

Newberry was one of three forensic science majors who visited the island to conduct research that became the backbone of their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) projects. The students worked closely with R. Christopher O’Brien, Ph.D., associate professor of forensic science.

Image of Megan Chetner ’20.
Megan Chetner ’20.

"The trip to Curaçao allowed me to work closely with my fellow researchers and with Dr. O'Brien," said Megan Chetner ’20. "Having the ability to openly collaborate with them on this research was incredibly helpful throughout the entire process."

"I hope that this trip has inspired them to go further in their education and become productive members of the global scientific community."R. Christopher O'Brien, Ph.D.

Dr. O’Brien, who accompanied the students to Curaçao, says the trip was a wonderful opportunity for students.

"They were able to conduct groundbreaking research in a completely unique environment, which they will relate back to the work they are conducting in Connecticut," said O’Brien. "It gave them a broader understanding of the collaborative nature of scientific field-based research. I hope that this trip has inspired them to go further in their education and become productive members of the global scientific community."

In addition to their research, students networked with and learned from scientists from around the world, discussing topics that included the protection and restoration of corals in the Caribbean.

Image of R.Christopher O'Brien and students.
Students conducted research with R. Christopher O’Brien, Ph.D. (center).

For her project, Bethany Hoschar ’20 explored entomological communities, focusing on the flies and maggots present as an organism decomposes.

"I learned about the process of conducting field research and about the various scavengers present on land and in the water," said Hoschar, who plans to continue conducting field research. "This experience was beneficial, both educationally and personally, as it contributed to my research and introduced me to a new culture."