August 2021

Meet John Goodpaster

Professor John Goodpaster, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the IUPUI Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. He is also the Associate Director of the Forensic and Investigative Sciences (FIS) Program. His translational research can be described as forensic analytical chemistry, which combines the powerful laboratory methods of analytical chemistry with issues of acute social relevance such as law enforcement, public health and counter-terrorism.  As a result, the central concept of “Chemistry in the Public Interest” can be used to guide and inform his research activities. 

Instrumental methods for chemical analysis are powerful tools that offer extreme levels of sensitivity, selectivity, and specificity. These methods include chromatography, which can separate complex mixtures of chemicals, and identification methods like mass spectrometry and vacuum UV spectroscopy, which can differentiate even the smallest structural differences in compounds. Professor Goodpaster's laboratory makes use of these methods to design better approaches to identifying trace amounts of explosives on post-blast debris from improvised explosive devices or ignitable liquid residues in debris from suspicious fires. They also study the sensitivity and specificity of explosive-detecting canines, including how best to train them to detect explosives of all kinds. Their partnerships with local, state, and federal law enforcement and public safety agencies have been crucial to their success – together they have carried out experiments and exercises that provide critical data for their translational research studies as well as important demonstrations of how science can benefit society.

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Our motto is “Chemistry in the Public Interest”, which means that we use the powerful tools and methods of analytical chemistry and apply them to problems of acute social relevance like arson and explosives investigations.

Professor John Goodpaster

Research Photos

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Q and A with Professor Goodpaster

I became interested in forensic chemistry as a high school student and focused on the area of trace evidence as I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees. An internship with the FBI Laboratory as an undergraduate and work with the Michigan State Police Bomb Squad as a graduate student cemented this desire. I worked for the U.S. government for seven years following my Ph.D., which gave me valuable experience in public service and the needs of the forensic chemistry community. 

We are interested in improving the performance and reliability of explosive-detecting canines as well as the means to identify trace amounts of explosives in the laboratory. We have also been active in how best to preserve evidence from fire scenes. 

Our research has impacted the way explosive-detecting canines are trained, how evidence can be gathered at fire scenes, and the methods that are available to forensic chemists for trace explosives analysis. 

Going outside the laboratory to conduct experiments with our community partners is always exciting. It is a chance to test our methods, see trained canines at work, and experience fires and explosions in as safe a manner as possible. 

Undergraduate and graduate students have been instrumental to our progress.  Several graduate students have earned their thesis or dissertations by studying topics related to ignitable liquids and explosives. Their involvement is comprehensive, including gathering data, analyzing it, and preparing presentations and papers for publication. 

Over the years we have regularly partnered with local agencies such as the Indiana State Police, the Indianapolis Fire Department, the Indiana Capitol Police, and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. These partners directly assist us with field experiments, which provide the data to inform our conclusions. 

In the canine arena, we will be working with the Department of Defense to develop the technology and methods for confirming canine alerts in the field. Our efforts in explosives analysis are focused on improving the specificity of analytical methods so that explosives can be identified unambiguously despite having highly similar chemical structures. 

Conversation with Professor Goodpaster

On Friday, August 27, 2021 from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. Professor Goodpaster wii give a virtual presentation about his work on “Chemical Analysis as a Tool in Arson and Explosives Investigations.” He will discuss how his laboratory uses science to design better approaches to identify trace amounts of explosives on post-blast debris from improvised explosive devices or ignitable liquid residues in debris from suspicious fires. He will also talk about the best methods for training dogs to detect explosives of all kinds.