"In the true spirit of SFU’s motto of engaging the world, it has been my goal to establish meaningful relationships with collaborators from other institutions for my doctoral research."

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Travel Report: Vienna Chichi Lam

Vienna Chichi Lam, a PhD student in the School of Criminology, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research in the Netherlands Antilles.

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August 27, 2019

Thanks to the generosity of the School of Criminology in granting me a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA), I was able to travel to Oranjestad, St. Eustatius, Netherlands Antilles to collaborate with leading researchers from the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research (SECAR) and Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute on an underwater archaeological and geospatial analysis of a shipwreck from 1700s.

I am a Ph.D. student and Laboratory Manager under the supervision of Dr. Gail S. Anderson at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) School of Criminology and the Centre for Forensic Research. My doctoral research involves geospatial analyses of drowning data, use of acoustic technology in water recoveries, water safety awareness amongst vulnerable populations, and aquatic body decomposition from a medicolegal and forensic anthropological perspective. It is through the support of GIRTA and the research experience gained from this overseas experience that I now have the necessary technical skillset to undergo further studies on the use of submersibles in underwater body detection; this will be achieved by identifying the optimal kHz frequency and acoustic signals by location and by stage of decomposition within the Canadian Western Hemlock Zone.

The forensic application of side-scan sonars to detect submerged human remains has vastly improved within the past decade, due to technological advancements in aquatic geophysical equipment, increased resolution of sonar imagery, and better affordability of materials used to creating housing units for submersibles (Schultz et al., 2013). This type of remote detection method is important because it allows rescuers to continue their search in dangerous water conditions that would typically prohibit divers from entering the water. This is especially pressing for cold climates like ours. Another benefit of this technology is that it’s adaptable to different environmental conditions and small enough that it can be used to examine sea and lake floors in the search for human bodies (Armstrong & Erskine, 2010).

In the true spirit of SFU’s motto of engaging the world, it has been my goal to establish meaningful relationships with collaborators from other institutions for my doctoral research on aquatic human body detection, recovery and repatriation. GIRTA has been immensely valuable to my research, and it is with the support of Dr. Ruud Stelten (SECAR, Shipwreck Survey Director) and my incredible committee members, Dr. Gail Anderson and Dr. Bryan Kinney, that I am able to develop the skills necessary to pursue audacious research projects. It was also a pleasure to present our preliminary research findings from the side-scan sonar work at St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA) to local residents in an effort to mobilize knowledge through public STEM outreach.

Many thanks to SFU DGS and the many folks that help support international graduate student research!