DHS HS-STEM intern's research project could help U.S. border agents crack down on illicit drug trafficking

Kyle Doty

Kyle Doty, a Ph.D. candidate at the University at Albany, spent his summer analyzing the chemicals in training aids used to help canines detect illegal drugs.

When Kyle Doty receives his doctorate degree in chemistry from the University at Albany in spring 2017, he will have many experiences to look back on: his time in the chemistry and forensics club at Buffalo State College, attendance at conferences in Germany and Brazil, a two-month research stint in France, and academic research conducted under the mentorship of forensic scientist Igor Lednev, Ph.D.

After his recent 10-week internship with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), he will be able to add one more experience to that list—and it’s definitely among his favorites.

I feel very honored to have been selected for the program and lucky to have had such a wonderful experience,” said Doty, who participated in the DHS HS-STEM Summer Internship Program at the Laboratory and Scientific Services Directorate lab in Springfield, Virginia. Laboratories and Scientific Services Directorate (LSSD) is the Forensic/Scientific arm of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and provides forensic and scientific testing in the areas of Trade Enforcement, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Intellectual Property Rights, and Narcotics Enforcement. The DHS HS-STEM Program provides undergraduate and graduate students majoring in homeland security-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (HS-STEM) disciplines the opportunity to conduct research in a DHS area at federal research facilities across the United States.

Doty applied to the program to advance his skill set of analytical chemistry techniques and to gain insight into how government labs are structured and managed.

As a member of the chemistry group at the lab, Doty conducted research on pseudo canine training aids used in the field by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to detect illicit drugs. His goal was to determine how the chemicals used in the training aids behave over time in order to see whether the current shelf lives of canine training aids could be extended—similar to how a milk manufacturer runs tests on the longevity of its milk to determine its “Sell-By” date.

Under the mentorship of chemist Nian Du, Ph.D., Doty employed specialized techniques known as Fourier transform-infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyze chemicals used in the training aids. Unfortunately, the results of his analysis during this short time frame were not ideal.

“The trends we observed did not match what we were expecting to see, as supported by chemistry and physics principles,” said Doty. “However, I was able to develop a new method of analysis, incorporating GC-MS, for the laboratory and chemistry group to utilize in future analyses of other training aids.”

During his time at the lab, Doty gained analytical and technical skills that have shaped him into a more versatile scientist. He also gained a robust network of contacts and insight into his prospects as a federal employee.

“My experience in the DHS HS-STEM Program definitely helped to solidify my desire to work for the government in a career centered around forensic science,” said Doty.

“I thought the program would be a good learning experience, which it was, but it exceeded my expectations in a variety of ways. I would definitely recommend this program to other students, and I actually already have done so.”

The DHS HS-STEM Summer Internship Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.