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Maryam Abdur-Rahman is an intern at Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) conducting forensic research with the cannabis team in the Chemical Sciences Department. His job has been to help the team chemically analyze various compounds at the plant. While marijuana’s high comes from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the calmness comes from cannabidiol (CBD), a non-toxic compound. Different parts of the hemp plant have different levels of THC and CBD, but if the US Department of Agriculture tests a farmer’s pulp or the police seize a consumer’s sample and a forensic lab shows that the sample contains 0.3% THC. or more is considered marijuana. Anything less is cannabis.
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Abdur-Rahman started training in January 2020. At first, he read and familiarized himself with scientific journals related to cannabis research. “I also did a lot of my own background research on cannabis and the legality of cannabis,” he says. “Then came my introduction to the instruments we use in the lab.” Part of his project included developing new sample processing methods as well as standardizing analytical detection methods to reduce measurement inconsistencies and reduce the workflow of cannabis testing laboratories.
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“It took me a while to understand the inner workings of a cannabis analyzer, but with further research and lessons from my mentor, I got the hang of it,” says Abdur-Rahman. “I also learned the importance of sample preparation when I started experimenting with different protocols.” He was able to spend a few months in the lab before closing. “I would get half a gram of hemp material; use 20 ml of methanol to extract THC; then the sample is mixed by vortexing; put it in a shaker; centrifuge it; take 20 ml of methanol and place it in fresh methanol; then run it through HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography).” HPLC separated the compounds and allowed Abdur-Rahman to determine exactly how much THC or CBD was in the sample.
“My overall contribution was to try different extraction protocols to optimize the production method. I mainly work with the HPLC method, but recently I have had the opportunity to study other methods alongside other researchers; examples include IR (infrared) spectroscopy and GC-MS (Gas Chromatography mass spectrometry).
The group started with 50 kilograms of hemp biomass. The goal was to homogenize the material by grinding and sieving so that “you get a consistent level of THC, so you can take a sample from that lot and even if it’s just half a gram, it’s representative of the whole thing,” said research chemist Brent. Wilson. Adviser to Abdur-Rahman. In addition to helping distinguish best practices, Abdur-Rahman helped the team “test hemp samples for use in our Cannabis Quality Assurance Program (CannaQAP) and hemp plant reference materials,” he adds.
Since then, the team has created a range of hemp and marijuana samples with varying known percentages of different compounds. For the next step, they have sent these samples to several other labs without telling those labs how many compounds they are testing in the samples. When labs return with their measurements, they anonymize all results and share the methods that produced the most accurate results in the final report.
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As for Abdur-Rahman, he graduated from MCCC and will start as a junior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore Area this fall. “The internship solidified my career,” he says. “During the block, with the help of my mentor, I learned how to write scientific reports that summarized our work and presented our results.”
He also participated in the 2020 Forensic Cannabis Workshop in November. His presentation, “Evaluation of an LC-PDA Method for the Measurement of 11 Cannabinoids in Cannabis Samples,” discussed his project goals, method development, sample preparation protocols, and results related to the HPLC method. “Overall it went well,” he says. “I was able to present my work to cannabis professionals alongside other researchers. It was a great experience for me as I had not presented in front of other interns before. The question and answer part of the session taught me a lot about the industry as a whole and how the work done in the company affects it.”
But instead of pursuing analytical chemistry, he pursues a degree in biotechnology. “At Montgomery College, the biology labs were some of my favorite classes,” she says. “Better late than never, I learned from practice that my love for science is biology, not chemistry.” In addition to the technical skills I learned during this internship, “I’ve also learned to trust my abilities, which I owe to Brent for his constant encouragement and willingness to invest in my studies.”
Recruits interns through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), Summer High School Internship Program (SHIP), and Professional Research Experience Program (PREP), and posts jobs and internships on USAJobs.gov.
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2020 Forensic Workshop Part 3, Part 1, featuring Abdur-Rahman’s presentation: “Evaluation of an LC-PDA Method for the Measurement of 11 Cannabinoids in Cannabis Samples.” Your success in a forensic education program can greatly benefit from forensic internships, volunteer programs, and research programs during school. Opportunities like these can give you an introduction to the forensic professions available and help you gain hands-on experience working alongside an experienced crime scene investigator. This experience can pay off in the form of better education and lead to rewarding forensic jobs. It is in your best interest to begin exploring some of the options below early in your forensic training.
Although graduate or undergraduate internships offered by forensic science schools may pay you a stipend, most do not. University-sponsored internship opportunities require students to be currently enrolled in or have recently graduated from accredited forensic science programs. Many internships may be coordinated by the college or university you attend, but there are also some internships with state and federal agencies that you can apply for. You can also check with private forensic labs to see if they have internships available. Some state and federal program websites include:
You will not be paid or compensated for joining the volunteer program, but you will gain valuable insights that you can apply to your forensic training. Volunteer programs are more likely to be related to basic criminal law or law enforcement than to the “practice” of forensic medicine. However, such programs will give you an introduction to the field of criminal justice and introduce you to some forensic scientists. As a forensics volunteer, you also provide valuable assistance to law enforcement professionals and the public.
You can find an opportunity by contacting your local police department or county sheriff’s office and asking about volunteer programs. They may have a program that offers experience as a registration assistant, victim assistant, data entry clerk, or other job. Although this job may not be specifically related to forensic investigations, you will gain a valuable introduction to the world of criminal justice.
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Joining a forensic research program requires contacting private laboratories and companies in addition to traditional colleges and universities. There are many opportunities for the private sector. Research programs, as well as volunteer programs and forensic internships, can provide college credit that can be used toward a degree. Some of the research groups below are not just for forensic students, but also serve qualified members of the industry. Contact the associations below for information on upcoming research programs you can apply for.
Imagine what real-world experience in forensic labs can mean to you when searching for available jobs. By applying for a forensic internship or participating in volunteer or research programs, you can gain real-world, real-world experience that will be quite valuable in your forensic education and career. Sherlock Institute of Forensic Sciences, India has developed an online internship program for all undergraduate and graduate students in Forensic Science. Students had the opportunity to gain direct experience at work in real life. The great thing about this online internship was that it taught young professionals how to handle real cases. The topics covered in the online training were signature analysis, handwriting analysis, fingerprint analysis, voice analysis, video analysis, facial recognition, case intake procedure and report writing using courtroom procedure. During the internship, students were provided with different handwriting, signature, fingerprint, audio, video, crime scene cases and various other activities every day to learn how to handle real cases.
I found the internship really useful and I learned things other than what I was taught and it was really interesting. This practice
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