Several high profile investigations have put MVA Scientific Consultants in the news and on the witness stand, while other projects that the microanalytical services company has undertaken have helped set new standards in health and environmental regulations. Their detailed reports provide definitive answers to a wide range of questions about contamination, patent infringement, particulate analysis, and health risks, as well as solve mysteries and cold cases.
Whether the topic is forensics or failure analysis, MVA Scientific Consultants has numerous case studies on file that could—and sometimes do—make for reality T.V.
Hindenberg “History Detectives”
Producers of the PBS series “History Detectives” turned to MVA recently, when chemist Dr. Michelle Cavaliere helped validate an artifact thought to be from the wreckage of the Hindenberg, the zeppelin or air ship made famous in the 1937 explosion while docking in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) coupled with energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) and Fourier transform infrared micro-spectroscopy (micro-FTIR), Cavaliere found consistencies with samples from the casing of the intact speed indicator reportedly taken from the crash site, and pre-WWII German plastics and paint. Cavaliere also analyzed a discolored section of the item using confocal Raman microscopy (CRM) and determined that the item had been exposed to a blast of extreme heat, providing further clues to its authenticity.
Cold Case Solved
MVA’s investigative work on a cold case was featured on The Investigators Court TV, and made headlines in metropolitan papers and on true crime websites. In 2005, 11 years after the abduction and murder of Emory University student Shannon Melendi, MVA Executive Directors Mary Miller and Dr. Tim Vander Wood defended the evidence produced using SEM. They analyzed miniscule specks of metal on masking tape and a cloth bag containing the victim’s ring. The metals – titanium, tungsten, cobalt and molybdenum – were found on the same type of tape both in the defendant’s possession and at the Delta Airlines technical support center where he worked. The cloth bag also matched those used at Delta’s support center.
After four hours of testimony, the evidence helped to convict the defendant, Colvin (Butch) Hinton III, of the crime, even without a body, fingerprints, or crime scene. Only the cloth bag, tape and metal fragments were found in a phone booth behind a Burger King restaurant when investigators traced an anonymous phone call made two weeks after Shannon disappeared. MVA Scientific Consultants was asked to analyze the evidence almost ten years later.
When Disaster Strikes
The real-life dramas that scientists at MVA get involved in have serious outcomes for both litigation and manufacturing. Their expertise is in demand by legal teams, government agencies, health organizations, scientists, industry, and other practicing microscopists. However, professional expertise and personal emotions sometimes interweave, as they did when artifacts from the World Trade Center arrived at their lab shortly after 9/11.
“That was one of the hardest things, seeing portions of windows, clothing, and a melted coin box from the World Trade Center,” said MVA project support specialist Beth Wortman, who witnessed the analytical work done by Executive Director Dr. James Millette, one of the company’s co-founders.
When disaster struck again – this time in the form of hurricane Katrina – MVA Scientific Consultants provided automated particulate analysis services. Their work focused on determining the potential for respiratory health problems due to molds and particles after the flood.
Focused on the Science of Small Things
MVA Scientific Consultants is “focused on the science of small things,” and as such they are experts on particle sizing and identification, nanoparticles, dust analysis, asbestos, contaminant and source identification, materials characterization, and surface metrology. At the Symposium on Air Quality Measurement Methods and Technology (2005), Dr. Tim Vander Wood, co-founder of MVA, presented a paper on his work developing a method for determining particle size distributions in stack emissions. His work helps make possible particle size analysis by SEM in EPA Method 5 samples collected from very clean stacks.
Vander Wood’s expertise is in development of automated microscopy to characterize entire particle populations. Applications include contamination control, process monitoring, source identification, environmental monitoring and pollution studies.
A Resource for Published Information and Expertise in Several Fields
MVA Scientific Consultants has contributed to numerous peer-reviewed and trade publications, and offers resource materials on topics ranging from asbestos to pharmaceutical powders, and from fine art to geology. The company’s research scientists hold memberships in multiple professional associations.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) awarded the Andrew H. Payne, Jr., Special Achievement Award to Dr. James Millette for his work in environmental forensic science in 2008. At the 61st annual meeting, the AAFS will bestow the 2008 Emerging Forensic Scientist award on MVA microscopist Whitney Hill.
Full Service Facility
After 18 years of being in the business of investigative analysis, MVA Scientific Consultants has 16 employees and a dedicated 14,000 square foot facility in Duluth, Georgia. They moved into the new facility in 2006. It includes classroom areas where they offer training classes in microscopy techniques and also serves to host free Saturday classes each year for middle and high school students given by The Georgia Microscopical Society.
MVA has 11 dedicated labs for imaging and microanalysis, including two SEM labs. Forensic microscopist Rich Brown explained that the JEOL JSM-6500FE field emission SEM is used for high magnification and very low accelerating voltages for uncoated samples and for routine stack emissions particle sizing down to 0.1 micrometer. The JEOL JSM-6490LV is routinely used for particle sizing down to 0.5 micrometers. “At fifty pascal the tungsten SEM is great for imaging uncoated polymers and polymer filaments that contain fillers, as the backscattered detector does a great job showing the distribution of the fillers in the uncoated filled polymers. The EDS is used ninety-nine percent of the time for all samples we look at. Both SEMs are invaluable when analyzing forensic environmental samples, including nuisance dust source determination and characterization, such as the work we did on the World Trade Center dust and the different types of glass fibers present. Automated particle sizing with elemental analysis is performed routinely on each microscope. The Thermo Ultradry detector mounted on the tungsten SEM allows throughput of more than one-thousand particles per hour.”
Another lab dedicated to sample preparation features a new acquisition, the JEOL Cross Section Polisher. Other instruments include several confocal microscopes, a scanning white light interference microscope, transmission electron microscopes, and a microspectrophotometer.
Having a variety of expertise and instrumentation for all aspects of analysis, MVA Scientific Consultants is ready for any and all surprises, and prepared for finding the answer for their clients, even the unexpected. Like the case of the black specs found in vial stoppers for pharmaceuticals. Organic or inorganic? You might say that the production of the rubber stoppers was “bugged.” A closer look with the SEM revealed that insects were inadvertently present in the rubber formulation or in the mold, and were not caused through any fault of the pharmaceutical company. All in a day’s work for MVA Scientific Consultants!