August 16, 2023

By Haley Dittbrenner ’25

Toxicology results can be the lynchpin in criminal investigations or the final piece to the puzzle in an autopsy report — convicting or exonerating someone of a crime, or giving a family closure after a death. Biochemistry major Remi Acord ’25 spent her summer in a unique internship that gave her valuable experience on how to conduct the intricate lab work that is foundational to forensic science.

Acord, of Southampton, Pennsylvania, interned with the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education.

The CFSRE is dedicated to research, education and outreach in the forensic sciences, and offers educational and training services for the forensic science community and beyond.

In her role as an intern, Acord studied postmortem and human performance toxicology and workplace drug testing. Postmortem toxicology involves identifying drugs in a deceased subject’s blood; human performance toxicology relates to the role of drugs in criminal investigations; and workplace drug testing involves the detection of drugs or alcohol in urine.

Presented with mock cases, Acord was tasked with identifying drugs in postmortem blood samples from sheep. 

“The mock case would include information on what process we needed to go through to identify drugs. Then we would purify the sample, run it on an instrument to determine the class and type of drug present,” Acord explained. “Once that was complete, we ran the sample on a different instrument to determine how much of the drug was present in the sample. We would then write a report containing our findings. We also occasionally had lectures on different instruments or techniques to prepare us to use them before we got into the lab.”

For Acord, the lab, located in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, was a welcoming place of learning.

“I really loved the environment of the lab; everyone was so friendly and willing to help with any questions.” Acord said. “I also liked that they teach us to understand the information and the instruments by using them so often. The best way to learn is to do, and that is exactly what we got to experience with this internship.”

Another piece she will take from her internship is increased confidence.

“There is so much information and not everything is going to click right away,” she said, “but the more you practice and learn, the easier it will get,” she said.

After graduating from Susquehanna University, Acord hopes to pursue a master’s degree in forensic science or forensic toxicology, with hopes of working for a private lab before becoming an FBI analyst.

Learn more about Susquehanna’s Department of Chemistry.