How This Black Female Chemist is Helping to Solve Sex Crimes

Dr. Candice Bridge's research can help catch criminals even without much DNA evidence

Whenever Dr. Candice Bridge mentions she is a forensics chemist, people inevitably ask, “Like on the show CSI?”

Bridge calls it “the CSI effect.”

“People who watch those crime shows have an idea of what forensics is based on, but it’s inaccurate,” she says.

Image: File Dr. Candice Bridge (Image: File)

 

As a forensics chemist, Bridge focuses on the analysis of evidence collected from crime scenes. The Ph.D., who is a professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF), was awarded a grant of $324,000 for her research, leading to new ways to analyze evidence from sexual assault investigations.

Her areas of expertise are analyzing forensics in cases involving explosives and lubricants. Her goal is creating a publicly accessible database for forensics teams to analyze evidence from sexual crime scenes involving lubricants (and yes, in many cases, that means condoms).

“I got the idea looking at lubricants at my last job. We have a characterization scheme for fire,” Bridge explains. She says that, based on chemical analysis, investigators can tell whether a fire involves gasoline, charcoal, or other substances.

“I wondered if there was a way to come up with a characterization scheme for unknown lubricants.” She went on to explain that with such analysis, if an assailant left a condom, or even traces of a condom, or some other lubricated object at the crime scene, a characterization scene would help tie the right suspect to the victim, based on scientific evidence—especially in cases where there is a lack of DNA evidence.

Bridge has been involved in this research since 2004, when she worked for the National Research Center of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms researching explosive evidence and fire debris. She has also worked for the U.S. Army.

She received an American Chemical Society Certified B.S. degree in chemistry at Howard University, before obtaining a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry, with a focus on forensic science at University of Central Florida (UCF). She conducted post-doctoral research at the Center for Research and Educational Optics and Lasers (CREOL) at UCF, and began teaching chemistry at Howard University shortly thereafter as one of the first African American female chemistry professors there.