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Renowned forensic scientist stresses importance of chemistry

By Loumarie Rodriguez
On April 24, 2013

  • Dr. Henry C. Lee speaks about his career as a forensic scientist on Wednesday night. Lee has worked on famous cases, such as the O.J. Simpson trial. SANTIAGO PELAEZ/The Daily Campus

The UConn chemistry club hosted Dr. Henry C. Lee, one of the world's renowned forensic scientists, to give a special lecture on forensics to the UConn community.

Lee has worked on many famous cases, such as the O.J. Simpson trial, the Casey Anthony trial, the Elizabeth Smart Case, Laci Peterson cases, September 11 evidence and a lot more. He founded and teaches the forensic science program at the University of New Haven and has his own TV show, "True Evidence" on Tru TV.

Lee presented an extensive slide show filled with pictures explaining how he goes about working with evidence as well as gruesome pictures of crime scenes. Lee's presentation, 'Justice Through Sciences: Utilization of Chemical Evidence in Forensic Investigation,' showcased his humor through the jokes and puns that accompanied retellings of his experiences at crime scenes. He poked fun at popular crime serial 'CSI,' and explained that their portrayal of forensics is over-the-top compared to real life, where it can take years to make a breakthrough with evidence.

Before he decided to pursue a career in forensics, Lee wanted to become a basketball player but realized that he was too short. Eventually, he found his calling in the forensics field and says that the chemistry behind forensics is one of the most important parts of it. Lee showed how murder cases could be solved by details such as DNA or soil samples found on the victim.

Lee has helped about 46 countries to investigate different types of crime and has handled over 8,000 cases. He talked about his personal experiences on the field and what he has taken away from his work. While working on the JFK case, he explained the importance of how to properly handle evidence without contaminating it. When investigators were originally handling the case back in the 60s, they washed the bullet in water, thereby erasing any hopes of discovering DNA. Lee also explained the way he used a three dimensional model in order figure out the angles that the bullets entered JFK's body.

During the lecture, Lee asked different questions to the audience, rewarding those who answered correctly with mini CSI badges bearing Lee's name. Lee also said that just by looking at a fire he can tell almost instantly whether it is a suspicious fire or not, and after some investigation, can determine the place of origin of the fire as well. In his presentation, he talked extensively on the Elizabeth Smart case and his process looking at extreme details in order to find Smart.

"I'm interested in forensics and I thought it (the lecture) was great," said Matthew Gofstein, 8th semester chemistry major. "I was not expecting him to be as funny as he was."

"I thought it was very interesting, and he gave a lot of insight in the field and what he does," said Elizabeth Kaesmann, 4th semester chemistry major. "He was very funny and entertaining but informative."

After the lecture students swarmed Lee in order to ask him questions, take pictures and get his autograph. He left students by again emphasizing the importance of chemistry. 

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