Alumna does canine chemistry | Chapman Newsroom

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Lauryn DeGreeff’s early career in forensics took her to the heart of true crime with the infamous 2011 trial of Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter.

Since then, DeGreeff ’06 has worked largely behind the scenes in the specialized field of canine detection, helping those who train dogs to detect human scents and other odors that help law enforcement and military officials unravel the mysteries.

DeGreeff works with a canine test subject in a lab.

DeGreeff, a chemistry graduate from Chapman University, is now associate professor of chemistry at Florida International University. She continues to focus her research on “What we can learn about scents to improve detection in dogs,” she says.

For more than a decade, DeGreeff has sought to make it safer and more efficient for dogs to find scents that aid the crime-solving efforts of the FBI, U.S. Navy and other agencies.

But even with all of her professional accomplishments, attending Chapman remains one of her most rewarding experiences.

“I’m so grateful to Chapman for kickstarting the rest of my career,” she says. “The teachers were very supportive.”

DeGreeff, who became interested in forensics while studying anthropology at New York University, enrolled at Chapman to pursue a degree in chemistry after graduating from NYU. Christopher Kim, associate dean of academic programs at Chapman’s Schmid College of Science and Technology, remembers DeGreeff as a founding member of his environmental geochemistry research lab when he started in college.

“At the time, she impressed me with both her aptitude and curiosity for independent research as well as her commitment to forensic science,” he says. “It has been incredibly rewarding to see her personal and professional growth over the years and to now consider her a colleague in academia.”

DeGreeff earned a two-year bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Chapman. She received a special award so she could be included in the awards ceremony.

“When I graduated from Chapman, I felt like I had direction. I felt like I knew what I really liked and I had a community,” she says.

DeGreeff earned her Ph.D. and did a post-doctoral fellowship in the FBI’s Counterterrorism and Forensics Research Unit, then worked for a decade in the Naval Research Laboratory.

She was drawn to canine detection when a professor mentioned it when she was starting graduate school.

“I didn’t know canine detection was a forensic discipline. I thought that was very interesting so I jumped on it, joined the research group. I enjoyed it so much that I never left the pitch,” she says.

She started in forensics studying the chemistry of how dogs detect the scent of humans – living and dead – and their blood. She continued her research into how dogs alert to other smells important to investigators, such as homemade explosives, fentanyl, marijuana and spilled crude oil.

Additionally, DeGreeff studies factors, such as contamination, that affect the quality of canine detection training aids, as well as how to make dog training safer and more authentic. At the Naval Research Lab, she invented a device that trains dogs to detect mixed scents found in homemade explosives.

Ideally, dogs are trained in the environments in which they work. But with homemade explosives, it could present a danger. She created the device “because you want the explosive training aid to smell like the real explosive, but without the danger of the real explosive,” she says.

DeGreeff is also supervising a Ph.D. students and is collaborating on a project examining the movement of scent vapor inside a dog’s nose with Chapman Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Lindsay Waldrop.

“It made me really happy to be able to write ‘Chapman University’ on documents that I fill out,” she says.

Ultimately, DeGreeff is determined to apply her scientific expertise in ways that make a real impact.

“I love seeing him help someone,” she says.

Lauryn De Greeff ’06

  • Received the Navy Civil Service Medal of Honor in March 2022.
  • Edited the recently published book “Canines: The Original Biosensors”, which explores how science is improving the way dogs are used for sensing.
  • Holds three patents, including one for a tool used worldwide to train dogs to detect mixed vapors from homemade explosives.
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