Dr. Rankin featured in Forensic Nexus Q/A session

Forensic Nexus Q/A Session with a Forensic Chemistry expert and professor!

August 22, 2011,  Forensic Nexus

Forensic Nexus would like to introduce you to Dr. John G. Rankin, a Forensic Chemistry professor at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Dr. Rankin kindly agreed to being interviewed by Forensic Nexus to share his career path. We asked him the following questions:

What is your profession and what is your typical day like?…


Job Opportunity: United States Postal Service’s National Forensic Laboratory


The United States Postal Service’s National Forensic Laboratory has been granted permission to fill a variety of forensic analyst positions, including two forensic chemist positions. One position is a forensic drug chemist and one is a trace evidence chemist.

The National Forensic Laboratory operates on a small staff with limited opportunity for training and thus the successful applicants for these chemist vacancies will be FULLY TRAINED, FULLY COMPETENT AND VERY WELL EXPERIENCED in their discipline and/or sub-disciplines. The best qualified applicants for the trace analyst position will possess competency in at least 3-4 sub-disciplines.


All Forensic Analysts at the National Forensic Laboratory are compensated on the GS pay scale and can move non-competitively through the Inspection Service Law Enforcement (ISLE) 14 (equivalent to GS 14). Newly hired employees (in analyst positions) are not hired above a grade 13, but are eligible to apply for promotion after a year of service as an ISLE 13.  The approximate pay range (including the Washington, DC locality supplement) is:


ISLE-13: approximately 89K-115K

ISLE-14: approximately 105K-136K


Both positions have the same job description which will be posted in the OFFICIAL POSTING that is expected to be as follows:




Standard Position Description


Functional Purpose


Conducts detailed and complex chemical and physical examinations of evidence utilizing appropriate scientific methodologies, forensic techniques, and quality assurance practices in support of criminal investigations; assists inspectors, law enforcement representatives, and prosecutors in matters related to forensic examinations; provides expert testimony.


Duties and Responsibilities


  1. Conducts complex and detailed chemical and physical forensic examinations by evaluating and utilizing a full range of scientific methodologies and forensic techniques.


  1. Provides expert witness testimony; produces comprehensive reports and illustrative exhibits for federal, state, and local judicial proceedings at a level sufficient to explain evidence interpretation and conclusions from forensic examinations.


  1. Serves as a technical advisor in matters relating to the proper collection, preservation, packaging, and submission of criminal evidence; participates in crime scene evidence collection activities in major field investigations; ensures evidence handling requirements are met.


  1. Assists with ongoing evaluation and improvement of laboratory instrumentation and methods, operating protocols, and safety practices; maintains awareness of safety procedures and identifies possible physical conditions and/or laboratory procedures that may create unsafe conditions.


  1. Assists with planning and delivery of laboratory services, evidence collection, and field examination training.


  1. Designs, develops, and conducts studies and research for improving forensic analyses, scientific methods, and criminal identification procedures.


  1. Acts as liaison with postal management and federal, state, and local representatives on technical developments, forensic methods, and investigative problems of common interest.


  1. Participates in professional associations; maintains technical resource documentation.




Assistant Laboratory Director or Laboratory Unit Manager


Requirements (KSAs)


  1. Knowledge of forensic science techniques, laboratory protocols, scientific methodologies, and forensic physical, instrumental and chemical examination procedures sufficient to conduct detailed and complex analyses and interpret the value of evidentiary items.
  2. Knowledge of evidence collection, preservation, packaging and shipment procedures sufficient to serve as a technical advisor in such matters, and to ensure evidence handling requirements are met.
  3. Ability to communicate orally and in writing in order to prepare reports of examination results and conclusions, and provide testimony as an expert witness before state, federal or other judicial bodies.
  4. Ability to conduct research and prepare technical papers for publication and presentation at professional meetings.
  5. Ability to provide training related to laboratory services, evidence collection, and field examination.


The vacancies are expected to open on July 26th and close less than a week later on August 1st. The application process is expected to utilize the US Postal Service’s eCareer system, which is accessible to non-employees via the USPS.com. The following link will take you to the page that will explain the process:




Interested parties are encouraged to visit the site and familiarize themselves with the eCareer process. Candidates can create an eCareer profile at any time and be ready to complete the “Summary of Accomplishments” addressing specifically the KSAs for the position. Please be cognizant of the character limitations associated with the process as they are constraining (6000 characters to address all of the KSA). A good application will address each KSA directly demonstrating in a concise but complete manner the knowledge and/or ability. Failure to address the requirements of the position on the application will result in a finding of ineligibility for further consideration. Submission of a CV in lieu of or to support an application is not expected to be permitted.


Postings are also expected forensic analyst positions in Fingerprint Examination and Questioned Document Examination (each with their own separate position description and KSAs.


Interested candidates for the forensic chemist positions may direct questions to:


Stephanie L. Smith

Assistant Laboratory Director




Interest in other positions will be forwarded to the proper Director.

Dr. Rankin, Marshall forensic science professor selected chair-elect of Mid-Atlantic Assoc. of Forensic Scientists Criminalistics Section

Friday, June 10, 2011
Contact: Mary Thomasson, Public Information Officer, Marshall University Forensic Science Center 304-691-8961

Dr. Graham Rankin

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Dr. J. Graham Rankin, a forensic chemistry professor in Marshall University’s Forensic Science graduate program, has been selected as chair-elect of the Criminalistics Section of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists.

He will assume the chair position in May 2012 following next year’s meeting in Ellicott City, Md.  During his term as chair-elect, he will be responsible for organizing the presentations in the Criminalistics Section for next year’s meeting and assisting the current chair, Susan Stanitski of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.

“Criminalistics is the branch of forensic science concerning the analysis and interpretation of physical evidence such as drugs, fire debris, explosives residue and other trace evidence,” said Rankin.  “It is an honor to be selected for this position by one’s peers, who are working at the laboratory bench every day processing evidence from crime scenes.”

Rankin also presented two papers based on work of Amber Rasmussen and Amanda Heeren, who are 2011 graduates of the Forensic Science graduate program.  During the summer of 2010, Rasmussen developed a method for the analysis of the active ingredients in marijuana mimics, also known as “spice,” while she was an intern with the Kentucky State Police Eastern Laboratory Chemistry Section in Ashland, Ky.  “Spice type” products are plant material coated with one or more synthetic compounds that have similar hallucinogenic properties as marijuana when smoked.  These products were made illegal at both the state and federal levels earlier this year.

Heeren, who has worked in Dr. Rankin’s lab for the past two years, studied the effect of various charred wood substrates on the interpretation of ignitable liquid residues in fire debris.  Her work was instrumental to the receipt of a major grant from the National Institute of Justice by Rankin last fall.

Both projects are being continued this summer by graduate students in Rankin’s lab at Marshall.


View original press release.

Marshall Forensics Professor Receives Grant to Analyze Fire Debris – Forensic Magazine

Feb 06, 2011 – Forensic Magazine, http://www.forensicmag.com

Marshall University has received a $540,752 grant from the National Institute of Justice for a two-year project to study factors that affect interpretation of data by fire debris analysts and to develop a computer program to aid in interpretation.

Dr. J. Graham Rankin, a professor of forensic chemistry in the Forensic Science Graduate Program at Marshall, is conducting the study, which began January 1, 2011.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report released in 2009 on the practice of forensic science recommended more basic research to determine the reliability of many tests—like fire debris analysis—that depend on pattern recognition. Rankin said the grant program is a positive response to the NAS report.

He said the study will help fire debris analysts in crime laboratories and private laboratories better understand how to interpret their results. Fire debris analysts work closely with fire debris investigators in local fire departments to determine whether a fire was accidental or intentional.

“Our research will aid in improving the understanding of the accuracy and reliability of the data commonly used by fire debris analysts, and we will be validating techniques,” Rankin said. “This interpretation will be used to determine the presence and classification of ignitable liquid residues found in fire debris which may indicate that the fire was deliberately started.”

For the study, ignitable liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, charcoal lighters, and other commonly used accelerants will be used to ignite a variety of wood products and carpeting found in homes. The fire debris generated will be analyzed by two standard methods used by the forensic community.

Data produced by these methods will be distributed to fire debris analysts across the country as “blind case files” for determination about whether or not an ignitable liquid is present and to identify its classification.

Preliminary analyses performed this summer by Amanda Heeren, a second-year graduate student, indicate that the type of wood, as well as the extent of charring, are important factors in chromatographic patterns from the standard methods. In February, Hereen will present her work at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences national meeting in Chicago. She continues to work on the research project this academic year.

Statistical analysis of the results will be used to determine the number of “false positives” (a conclusion that an ignitable liquid is present, when none is), “false negatives” (concluding that no ignitable liquid is present when one was used) and any incorrect classification of the residue.

“Because background compound products in fire debris are frequently formed which can appear as low levels of ignitable liquids, most lab protocols require a significant amount present to ‘make a call.’ One factor we are investigating is the minimal amount of ignitable liquid residues needed to make a correct assignment to one of the classes of ignitable liquids as specified by the standard method used,” Rankin said. “One other important factor is that the presence of an ignitable liquid does not mean it was used as an accelerant in an intentional fire. It could be incidental, like residual paint thinner in a freshly painted wall, or maybe the cause of an accidental fire, like gasoline fumes ignited by a hot water heater pilot in an enclosed garage.”

A co-principal investigator on the grant is Dr. Nicholas Petraco, associate professor in the John Jay College of Law, City University of New York, in New York City. Petraco and his students will be responsible for the advanced statistical analysis of interpretation of chromatographic data and the development of the expert system. The same blind case files will be used to test the expert system.

The activities for the study, “Interpretation of Ignitable Liquid Residues in Fire Debris Analysis: Effect of Competitive Adsorption, Development of an Expert System, and Assessment of the False Positive/Incorrect Assignment Rate,” are funded by project number 2010-DN-BX-K272 through the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Research conducted by Hereen was supported by project number 2008-DN-BX-K146 through the National Institute of Justice.

View original article: http://www.forensicmag.com/news/marshall-forensics-professor-receives-grant-analyze-fire-debris