How would you describe your job to
someone standing behind you in the grocery
a forensic scientist employed by the New York
State Police Forensic Investigation Center,
assigned to the Chemistry Investigation
What is your
have a BS in chemistry with a general science
minor from SUNY Albany.
What path did you
take to get where you are now?
It was a sinuous route. When I first
got out of school, I wanted to stay in Albany. I
sold insurance for about 6 months; I didn't like
insurance but I liked dealing with the public.
There was a job opening at Albany Medical
College and it was a chemistry job doing
research so I worked there for two years. It was
called the Institute of Pathology and
Toxicology, and there I worked as an analytical
chemist, analyzing the biological distribution
of drugs, chemicals, and poisons in animals
under study. I left because they were moving
part of the facility out to New Mexico and moved
on to the New York State Health Department.
There, I was analyzing the stack gases being
emitted into the air from nuclear reactors and
that was my first experience with mass
spectroscopy because we were analyzing the gases
with a mass spectrometer.
How did you get
your current job?
who used to work at the Institute called me
about a job over at the state police lab and was
there anyone who would be interested? This was
back when the Rockefeller Drug Laws had been
passed and the need for drug analysis was
increasing as a result. So I applied and got the
job. What was interesting there is that they
didn't have a mass spectrometer but there was
money in the budget to get one. Since I had a
little experience with one I was able to start
at ground zero and take a complicated piece of
equipment and integrate it into a service
oriented lab into the methods we currently use.
I've been here for about 28 years.
What do you
consider to be your key career decisions?
Not selling insurance.
Studying chemistry, enjoying analytical
chemistry and deciding that I wanted to be part
of the chemical legal system. There was no crime
scene investigation (CSI) program back then; it
was a wide-open field back then.
What is your
ultimate career goal?
run a forensic lab.
What kinds of
people do well in your
The system is
a paramilitary organization. There are troopers
who come through the police academy, some of
whom then go on to be administrators. Then there
are the support personnel, who are the
civilians; I'm considered a civilian employee.
It's a two-caste system and those people who are
good at serving and conforming within the system
do well. You're not going to change it. The
people you're dealing with usually don't have a
scientific background so it's hard to effect
change in the laboratory. It's not
research-oriented work, it's service oriented.
The focus is more on production than
backgrounds does the lab look for?
The lab is broken down in
different areas; I've worked in the drug
chemistry and toxicology groups. I went to
toxicology for several years, then I had my own
MS unit, and then I came back to drug chemistry.
They needed people because of the caseload.
They're looking for a strong science degree and
a chemistry degree is favorable. If you want to
work in DNA, for example, you really need to
have microbiology, genetics, and statistics,
biochemistry, so you need to beef up the
chemistry degree with those courses. In today's
market, an MS is preferable and we do hire PhDs,
which were unheard of in forensics, so we have
several on staff now. The PhD will offer the
most in terms of advancement.
What is your
typical day like?
This business is unfortunately much more work
than people. We can get equipment but to get the
people we need to effectively handle the
workload is limited. Lately, we've been putting
a lot of fires out. We get calls from the
District Attorney (DA) about cases that are
going to court and there's a backlog so the
evidence may or may not have been worked on. You
need to be able to manage your time-we're always
working on a timeline. You need to be able to
communicate with the DA about any delays and
negotiate adjustments to the timeline because
the volume of work is becoming more prevalent.
Now in an ideal lab, that shouldn't be the case
but the theme in this business is triage and
What do you like
about your job? What don't you
I like being able to
use science to help solve crimes, helping the
public, the interface of chemistry with the
legal system. Testifying in court can be
nerve-wracking but that's why I'm here doing the
work I do. All the quality control and quality
assurance procedures insure accurate results
based on sound scientific principles. The tests
used must also be acceptable in a court of law.
The courtroom system is the interesting part
that gets you out of the laboratory.
What I don't like is the pressure of
working in an environment where the majority of
the cases are needed ASAP. I think you really
have to be focused on what's important and
quality should be (and is) Job #1. Convincing a
mostly nonscientist administration that the
solution to the backlog is to hire more people,
rather than to increase the analyst's caseload,
is not considered favorably. We're working on
evidence that affects people's
What have been
your most interesting projects or opportunities?
The thing that I'm most
happy about is integrating MS into this lab
pretty early on (early 1970s). Most of the
methods that are continually evolving were using
MS to help solve analytical problems. I've
integrated many methods from other labs to help
solve crimes. I've used it to help look for
drugs or poisons in biological systems. Looking
into things that have been tampered with such as
food or beverages. I've used it for powders and
liquids, volatile components in fire debris and
Have you had any
Perry Mason moments?
time I had worked on a case where someone was
found dead because a relative had spiked his
alcoholic drink with Diazinon,
which you use to kill grubs. They couldn't
figure out how he had died. I had worked on
organophosphates at the medical college, and
when I got the GC/MS results on the stomach
contents I recognized the spectra was that of
Diazinon, an organophosphate. Tests on the drink
also showed Diazinon was present.
When you get tampering cases, like Tylenol,
we get thousands of reports from people who
think their medicines have been tampered with.
In some instances, their suspicions have been
right. Most of the time, unfortunately, it
doesn't work out that way. Sometimes I can tell
by what's in the news what we'll get in the
If you had it all
to do over again, what would you do differently
about your career?
have gotten my PhD. I had an opportunity at the
medical college to get a PHD in Toxicology. It
would have opened up a lot more doors for me and
I would probably have achieved my career goal.
This type of job doesn't lend itself to
research. Unless you get in a very specialized
type job working for the Drug Enforcement Agency
or the FBI Academy in Quantico, you're probably
not getting into a research environment. Here,
it's a lot of bench work.
Who are your role
scientists but those in MS like Dr.
Fred McLafferty at Cornell, Dr.
Klaus Biemann at MIT, and Dr.
Rodger Foltz at Center for Human Toxicology
at the University of Utah. Foltz was the one who
looked for drugs in biological samples-like
marijuana in blood and urine samples. He was
more applied; he did a lot of research on the
application of MS techniques to measure drugs
and related compounds in biological
What do you do
when you're not at
volleyball, I used to do boating, and am just
learning to play golf.
What is the most
rewarding thing about what you
Public service: the
opportunity to help put some criminals away with
good sound science and also to help exonerate
those innocently accused of a crime. I look at
it as an interesting profession that helps get
people involved in science. Through my
involvement with ACS and a shadow program we
have here, I can encourage people to consider
science as a career and there are lots of
What advice do
you have for others who want a job like
Get a good chemistry
background and spice it up with some biological,
biochemistry, and statistics. Try to do an
internship in one of the crime labs, take a look
at the profession more closely to see if it's
what you really want to do. This is a
specialized career with specialized
One other thing I will say is to be
careful about the lifestyle choices you make; we
do background checks on applicants here. It's
not the credentials that keep them from getting
hired it's the background; choices can come back
to haunt you. We also do lie detector tests and
some people who pass the background have had
trouble here. Pure science won't just get you
through the door.
Enacted in 1973, New York's
Rockefeller Drug Laws are among the harshest
mandatory minimum sentencing schemes in the
nation because of the small amount of drugs
needed to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence.
These laws were enacted when heroin addiction
was at one of its peaks. Governor Nelson
Rockefeller's personal solution to the drug
problem was to require such long prison
sentences that no one would dare use them. The
penalties apply without regard to the
circumstances of the offense or the individual's
character or background-whether the person is a
first time or repeat