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FRNSC Graduate Program

FRNSC Features: Veronica Cappas

The Forensic Science Program is fortunate to have exceptional students conducting award-winning, publishable-quality research across all areas of forensic science. Our students learn by doing. They engage in hands-on training that teaches the practices used in modern forensics and make them leaders within the field. 

Image of Veronica Cappas

Meet Veronica Cappas, a native of Peachtree City, Georgia, working towards her master’s degree in Forensic Science. Throughout her grade school days Veronica had an aptitude and interest for science.  She enjoyed learning about how the world works, what made life on earth possible, what it meant to be alive, and was drawn to science by its methodology.  “Although often the correct answer is not always visible, there is a “correct” methodological way to go about solving a problem or answering a question,” says Veronica.

It was her love of science, and its methodology, that eventually led Veronica to pursue a double major in both Biology and Forensic Science at Piedmont College, a small college located in Demorest, Georgia, in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains.  During her first semester she enrolled in a Crime Scene Investigation course entitled “Crime Scene Investigation and Processing,” taught by Professor of Forensic Science & Criminal Justice, Bruce Willis, and  Banks County Sheriff’s Office Investigative Analyst, Katrina Willis.  Through the course, internships, and research, Veronica was able to learn first-hand the importance that integrity, logic, and discernment has within the field of forensic science.


It was the knowledge and expertise the course’s professors provided that helped cement for Veronica that forensic science was what she wanted to pursue as her career.  “I think those two mentors are my biggest motivators to someday become an accomplished, competent forensic scientist as they both are,” says Veronica.  “Overall, my biggest motivator is, when I do start my career, to be as prepared as possible so that I better society by determining the truth when it comes to legal issues.”

After graduating from Piedmont College Veronica chose Penn State, and its Forensic Science Program, to earn her master’s degree in forensic science.  The Program provided her the small college feel that reminded her of her undergraduate experience, while the resources that are available provided her the large-university opportunities she desired. “The professors made me feel like I would not be just another number here, like other schools,” says Veronica.  “They were willing to help with my coursework and future employment.”


Image of Veronica Cappas collecting field samples

Currently, Veronica is working under the guidance of Teaching Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Reena Roy, and Teaching Professor of Chemistry, Dan Sykes.  The Roy Laboratory focuses on DNA analysis and its uses for forensic purposes.  Veronica’s research focuses on the identification of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), often associated with odor, that are produced by microorganisms involved in decomposition.  VOCs are often a byproduct of the decomposition of macromolecules produced by microorganisms, insects, and enzymes from the body itself.

Through her research, Veronica is utilizing Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometry to identify VOCs by using SPME fibers in headspace vials containing certain species of bacteria.  The bacteria are cultured on human tissue, or on agar, that contains similar nutrients to human tissue so that the environment of a decomposing body can be replicated.  “Various factors can produce "the odor of death" or VOCs,” says Veronica.  “It can be due to the body's own enzymes breaking itself down, insects, fungi, or bacteria.”  By identifying what bacteria produce specific VOCs, her research is working to further understanding and tease apart what, and where, different VOCs come from.  Her research will help to understand the transition of the microbiome of a decomposing body and can be applied to advance techniques used for searching bodies in missing person cases, in natural disasters, or in cases where cadaver-detection canines or where VOC detection apparatus are used. 

Image of Veronica Cappas playing soccer
Veronica playing the midfielder position at Piedmont College



Outside of the laboratory, Veronica is a skilled soccer player.  She enjoys playing pick-up games when she can and is also involved in Centre County’s Adult Recreation League.  As an undergraduate at Piedmont College, Veronica was an NCAA collegiate midfielder.  Unfortunately, during her undergraduate career she suffered 2 ACL tears.  Her first occurred during her first-year and forced her off the field for 9 months, and her second took place 5 games into her senior season.  “After my second ACL tear, I actually played the remainder of my season on it torn with a brace,” says Veronica. “I was not 100%, but I wanted to finish my soccer college career on my own terms.”





Image of Veronica Cappas in her Piedmont College soccer uniform

Veronica doesn’t wish that her injuries would never have happened, instead she believes she is a stronger person because of them.  “[My injuries] taught me to adapt to unexpected situations and learn to be a team player and a more supportive team member,” says Veronica.  “It also taught me to value versatility.”  Because she was unable to play during these times, she involved herself with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a national organization recognized by the NCAA.  Veronica rebuilt the organization at Piedmont College and served as President focusing on increasing involvement, drafting by-laws, and involving the organization with the local community.  Under Veronica’s leadership SAAC engaged in conducting fundraisers for food banks and animal shelters, involvement with the Special Olympics, conducting leadership workshops, and helping put on community events. Veronica also had the privilege of representing Piedmont College’s student athletes at the 2018 NCAA Convention.

In addition to her love for soccer, Veronica also loves spending time in the great outdoors.  Whether it is hiking, or trail running, she loves the opportunity to take in the greatest views mother nature has to offer.

Veronica serves as a wonderful example of how to overcome obstacles and find success.  Her determination inside, and outside, of the laboratory not only makes her a leader within the community, but also drives her to push the frontlines of scientific discovery.  The Forensic Science Program, and the Department, is very fortunate to have Veronica as a part of their Team and looks forward to following her career in the future.  Congratulations Veronica for serving as an example of why We Are Penn State!