In Their Words: Xochitl Lopez

Name: Xochitl Lopezxochitl_lopez_400x600.jpg

Department: Anthropology

What Scholarship or Award did you receive? Ryan Heumann Award

What year are you (1st year, 3rd year)? 3rd Year (Transfer)

College: Nine

Where do you call home? Hanford, CA

What is your field of focus? Forensic Anthropology

With all of the choices for college, what made UC Santa Cruz stand out? UC Santa Cruz stood out to me because I found out that Dr. Galloway was returning as a Professor in Winter 2018, and I wanted to learn human osteology from her specifically. UC Santa Cruz was also my mom’s alma mater, and I have fond memories of visiting the campus as a kid.

What do you hope to do once you graduate from UC Santa Cruz? I plan to attend Chico State during fall 2019 as a masters student with a focus in forensic anthropology. I hope to one day become a professional in the field of forensic anthropology, and assist in the recovery and identification of individuals involved in mass fatality incidents.

What is one memorable moment that stands out for you as a student here? I was studying with my peers on a Sunday night in the bone lab for a Human Skeletal Biology quiz, when the power went out. We realized how creepy it was to be in the dark with a room full of human bones….but we didn’t want to call it a night just yet. We set up a few stools on the tables and placed our flashlights on them so that they illuminated our notes. We kept studying until the power came back on an hour later.

How will this scholarship/award impact your academic life/research? My summer research will take place at the Forensic Investigation Research Station at Colorado Mesa University under the supervision and guidance of Dr. Melissa Connor. I will be living in Grand Junction, CO in a dormitory at CMU from June 11th to July 28th. For seven weeks, I will be assisting with the upkeep of the facility while pursuing my own individual research. This scholarship will help pay for the gasoline I need for the drive to Grand Junction and back from Hanford, CA as well as the gasoline I use traveling to FIRS every day.

My research is on forensic taphonomy, or the study of human decomposition. My specific research question asks whether different areas of the body decay at different rates (particularly the limbs), and whether or not this is a measurable phenomenon. As of 2018, there has not been any substantial research on differential decomposition. Forensic practitioners often have to make a PMI (postmortem interval) determination from a single limb or portion of the body. PMI is postmortem interval, or how much time has passed since the death of an individual, and it is instrumental in their identification because it helps narrow down possible matches with missing persons. Having a better knowledge of partial decomposition would also be useful in global crises events, such as natural disasters, mass migrations, and other mass death events where bodies are rarely found intact.