Forensic Science graduate Haley Mulder spent the past seven years immersing herself in the forensic science program at VCU. She graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Chemistry, earned her Master’s in Forensic Science in 2018 and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics at the VCU School of Pharmacy.
Her passion for forensic science started at a young age.
“My mom was a prosecutor for 15 years in Nassau County, New York, so she used to watch all the 48 Hours Hard Evidence and she used to talk about her work all the time,” Mulder said. “That sparked my interest in the criminal justice world as a whole. I am a child of the NCIS era, so that was another part of it.”
Though her background revolved around forensic chemistry, Mulder didn’t start her college career going down that path. Mulder enrolled as a forensic biology major but had a lure to chemistry. “[Chemistry] was this whole mixed bag of cats where biology was DNA and serology,” Mulder said.
“I flirted with every single track I could go down. I needed to fill some credits at the time so I was gonna take an advance crime scene class. I was told that other students needed the spot and I was recommended to take toxicology instead.”
Through toxicology, Mulder found her passion in research and has built on her capabilities as a forensic chemist.
During her undergraduate career, Mulder worked closely with Dr. Michelle Peace to study electronic cigarettes. By taking a close look at the devices, Mulder learned how to build the coils and burn them to see how hot they would get. After this process, Mulder and Dr. Peace would place the e-liquid inside the electrons cigarette to see if the temperature would have an effect on the liquid.
Mulder took her findings and applied them to her Master’s research where she took a look at the products used in electronic cigarettes and worked on chemical instruments.
“One of the things that [Dr. Peace and I] did was we had this woman who confiscated a resin from her son and wanted to know what it was. It turns out it’s the blue lotus, which is not FDA approved, but it’s used as incense,” Mulder said. “It’s like MDMA [Ecstasy] meets Viagra is how it’s been described. So this kid was actually trying to smoke it inside of the e-cigarette, so I got to investigate that, test it, confirm it.”
Mulder also explored high molecular weight and high boiling point opioid compounds.
Taking methadone and placing it inside of an electronic cigarette system, Mulder observed the dose per puff to see what type of a dose people would get off of one hit as well as looking at the aerosol cloud to see how deep the tiny water droplets could get into the lung tissue.
Mulder’s masters research earned her the 2018 Educational Research Award from the Society of Forensic Toxicologists.
With the award, Mulder received travel funds to attend the annual Society of Forensic Toxicologists conference in October where she will present her research and be awarded a certificate in honor of her award.
“I’ve learned a lot since doing research, so I like the growth it’s allowed me,” Mulder said. “I felt like I’ve gotten more confident in taking a step forward, starting my Ph.D. I’ve gotten to have great relationships with a lot of people. I’m also networking now. I never would have done this before and I really just enjoy it.”