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Early-Career Forensic Toxicologists Take Home Top Awards for NIJ-Funded Research

Sara Walton, Laerissa Reveil, Tyson Baird, and Bailey Jones won prestigious awards at the Society of Forensic Toxicologists 2022 meeting.
Date Published
December 13, 2022

Bench scientists and student researchers are often under-represented at forensic science conferences due to budgetary constraints. To encourage the participation of young researchers, the Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT) supports three prestigious awards: the Young Scientist Meeting Award, the Master Level Educational Research Award, and the Doctorate Level Educational Research Award. This year, NIJ-funded researchers earned recognition for their exceptional work in each of the three categories.

The awards are presented annually to assist with conference-related travel expenses. Three awardees, Tyson Baird, Bailey Jones, and Laerissa Reveil, hailed from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) where they completed research in Dr. Michelle Peace’s Laboratory for Forensic Toxicology Research (LFTR). Dr. Peace’s lab focuses on developing analytical methods for understanding novel psychoactive substances, legal drugs, and over-the-counter medications. Her current NIJ grant supports the study of electronic cigarettes as an illicit drug delivery system and the impacts of vaping ethanol.

The fourth recipient, Sara Walton, performed her research at the Fredric Rieders Family Foundation’s Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE) where she worked as a forensic toxicology mentor in the Forensic Science Mentoring Institute. Her research has focused on developing a quantitative method for novel synthetic opioids.

“NIJ strives to fund innovative researchers addressing criminal justice problems,” remarked NIJ scientist Dr. Frances Scott. “It is exciting to see long-term lines of research in the Peace Lab and at the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education result in talented young researchers and we are proud to see our grantees’ research recognized by the Society of Forensic Toxicologists.”

The Young Scientist Meeting Award celebrates outstanding bench-level research by scientists with five years or less experience working in the field of toxicology. First awarded in 2003, the award was presented to two scientists this year.

Laerissa Reveil, a doctoral student in the Department of Pharmaceutics in the VCU School of Pharmacy, received the Young Scientist Meeting Award for her research characterizing the non-traditional use of electronic cigarettes for the aerosolization of cocaine and nicotine mixtures.[1] Reveil worked in Dr. Michelle Peace’s lab at VCU as a lab manager.

Sara Walton, currently a forensic toxicologist at the Center for Forensic Science Research & Education, also received the Young Scientist Meeting Award for her work creating specialized assays to detect novel synthetic opioids using liquid chromatography-tandem quadrupole mass spectrometry.[2]

The Educational Research Awards are presented to currently enrolled Master- and Doctoral-level students performing outstanding work in forensic toxicology research.

Bailey Jones, a forensic chemist with the District of Columbia Department of Forensic Sciences, received the Master Level Educational Award for her master’s thesis work developing an analysis for ethanol metabolites using ultra performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and mass spectrometry.[3]

Tyson Baird, a doctoral student in the Center for Integrative Life Sciences Education at VCU, received the Doctorate Level Educational Research Award for his work on understanding the effects of the antidepressant tianeptine in rats and mice.[4] In addition to working in Dr. Peace’s lab, Baird was supported by an NIJ Graduate Research Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics grant.[5] After completing his doctorate, Baird will serve as a forensic toxicologist at the Regional Forensic Science Center in Sedgwick County, Kansas.

“The [NIJ] awards have leveraged the best minds to wrestle with problems and discover new things,” commented Dr. Peace. “The really exciting piece is the arc from bench to practice is really short — we've been able to advise and instruct agencies contemporaneous to finalizing our conclusions.”

Date Published: December 13, 2022