The MSU Forensic Anthropology Lab moves to Giltner Hall

Alexis Goots and Micayla Spiros discuss some x-rays with anthropology faculty member Carolyn Isaac in the new MSU Forensic Anthropology Lab in Giltner Hall.

During the summer of 2021, the Michigan State University Forensic Anthropology Lab (MSUFAL), moved from its longtime home in East Fee Hall to a new laboratory and teaching space in Giltner Hall. The move has been bittersweet, due to the history of groundbreaking research and fruitful collaborations that were forged in East Fee Hall, but the new lab in Giltner offers the opportunity to expand the consulting, training, and research for which MSUFAL is known.

The MSUFAL has been an integral part of the MSU landscape since the 1970s, providing a variety of forensic services including forensic archaeological recovery, decedent identification, trauma analysis, and expert witness testimony. The lab has provided these services for diverse types of cases such as positive identification of unidentified human remains, human skeletal analysis, trauma analysis, human vs. nonhuman bone, and field search and recovery. The forensic anthropology faculty comprises Dr. Todd Fenton, who is currently serving as Department Chair until 2024, Dr. Joe Hefner, and Dr. Carolyn Isaac, the current lab director.

From the late 1970s to the late 1990s, the MSUFAL, under the direction of Dr. Norm Sauer, was housed in the basement of an administration building on campus, which offered very little analytical space and only one small sink. During this time, most of MSUFAL’s work was done at the local morgue, as the on-campus laboratory facilities were not conducive to forensic casework. In the mid-1990s, the MSUFAL moved to its most recent home in East Fee Hall, where the larger space and the addition of Dr. Fenton to the faculty allowed casework, teaching, and research efforts to substantially expand.

Throughout the two decades during which the MSUFAL called East Fee Hall home, members of the MSUFAL participated in trauma research, ancestry research, bioarchaeology projects and dissertations, skull-photo superimposition, forensic image comparisons, and countless forensic cases. In addition, the location in East Fee Hall allowed for close collaboration with the anatomy department, medical school, and biomechanical engineers, all of whom also had labs in the building. While the MSUFAL was housed in East Fee Hall, MSUFAL faculty and graduate students consulted on over 1,200 forensic cases, averaging approximately 60 forensic cases per year. Further, over the past 14 years, MSUFAL faculty have garnered over $5,000,000 in external research funding, cementing MSUFAL as one of the premier forensic anthropology research laboratories in the country.

Given MSUFAL’s expanding faculty, increasing casework, and new research initiatives, and despite the great success of students and faculty over the last five decades, it became clear that the lab had finally outgrown the space in East Fee Hall. In May 2021, faculty and students packed up the laboratory and moved to a beautiful new space in Giltner Hall. This move was motivated by the prospect of a larger space and being in the same building as the other physical anthropologists, as well as Giltner’s proximity to the rest of the department in Baker Hall.

Alexis Goots works in the new MSU Forensic Anthropology Lab in Giltner Hall.

The new lab space in Giltner Hall has proven to be an upgrade in many ways, with its centralized location being perhaps the greatest advantage. Instead of the disparate lab spaces of East Fee, the new Giltner lab boasts a connected dry lab, wet lab, radiography and photography space, grad student office, lab director office, and a large classroom. Overall, the new lab is an ideal place to conduct sensitive casework, safely and securely house skeletal material, conduct meaningful research, and train the next generation of forensic anthropologists!