National Award for Substance Abuse Identification Test

Nash_hrCongratulations to 5th year Ph.D. chemistry student David Nash, on receiving the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Graduate Research Fellowship. The NIJ is the research-funding branch of the Department of Justice. Annually, they provide a handful of graduate students a monetary award to conduct research in the social or physical science fields that will help the criminal justice, law enforcement, or forensic communities. David Nash is the first UCF student to receive such an award. He has his B.S. and M.S. in chemistry from UCF and currently works in the in the research lab of  Richard Blair, Ph.D., a research professor in the physics department and the Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research (CATER).

David received this award for his research project titled “Low-cost Handheld Spectrometer and Cloud-Based Data Analysis for Improved Identification of Substances of Abuse”. This project involved developing a new field drug testing method for law enforcement and forensic analysts. The current chemical spot tests methods, Nash states “are not as accurate and simple to use as TV makes them out to be.”

His research will develop a handheld spectrometer that contains an ultraviolet light source, which will be used with a chemical indicator test strip that causes drugs to fluoresce a certain color. The spectrum of that color will be captured by a smartphone camera using an app that David and his team will develop as well. This app will be synced to a cloud database of standards for known substances, and a match will be sent back to the phone giving the result for the identification of the unknown. This new method will make it quicker, easier and safer to analyze the substance, giving a more accurate result compared to the current methods used in the field by law enforcement.

David has been working on this project for 5 years, beginning in his last year as an undergraduate at UCF. “We’ve made a lot of progress and it’s great to see that people are interested in the research that we are doing to help the law enforcement and forensic communities.”

Working in an academic research lab, David has been responsible for mentoring many undergraduate students that are interested in research, 17 total since he started graduate school. David would like to give credit to the undergrads because without them helping on this project throughout the years, he would not have much to show for it. David would also like to thank his advisor, Dr. Blair, for giving him the opportunity to work on this project in his earlier days as a chemist, “which allowed me to find interest in it enough to continue the project throughout grad school. If it wasn’t for him and his brilliant ideas, this project would not be possible.”

David would like to inform students that “I put in a lot of work to get to where I am today… so for anyone who thinks that they don’t belong in college, a certain tough degree program, or those that doubt their own intelligence because they don’t have a 4.0 GPA, hard work really does pay off and it’s really the effort you put in that will determine whether you belong or not.”

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