For the Second Time, an MTSU Forensic Anthropologist Researcher Has Earned the Prestigious Ellis R. Kerley Research Award

MTSU assistant professor Yangseung Jeong said earning the coveted 2022 Ellis R. Kerley Research Award “makes me convinced my research would contribute to the forensic anthropology community, which is one of my ultimate goals as a forensic anthropologist.” The award includes $250, a plaque to be presented next year and an opportunity to speak about the research during the Kerley Foundation/Anthropology section reception. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

MTSU assistant professor Yangseung Jeong has earned the prestigious Ellis R. Kerley Research Award.

Jeong, who has been a member of the Department of Biology and Forensic Science program since 2017, learned earlier this year he is the 2022 Kerley award recipient, recognizing excellence in the continuing effort to research and develop methods in forensic anthropology.

The announcement was made by the Ellis R. Kerley Forensic Sciences Foundation. Retired MTSU Forensic Institute for Research and Education Director Hugh Berryman received the honor in 2008. MTSU is one of three U.S. universities with multiple Kerley award winners since 2002.

The Kerley Research Award is presented for one paper or poster that best demonstrates excellence in the pursuit of advances in the field of forensic anthropology each year.

“Most of all, receiving this award makes me convinced my research would contribute to the forensic anthropology community, which is one of my ultimate goals as a forensic anthropologist,” Jeong said.

College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Greg Van Patten said the award “typically goes to very high level, established researchers.” Biology Chair Dennis Mullen added the honor “is one of the top recognitions in Jeong’s field.”

The recognition comes for Jeong’s “developing a new ‘pair-matching’ method to segregate commingled (mixed) skeletal elements into individuals using 3D CT (computed tomography) images,” he said. The 3D CT is a nondestructive scanning technology allowing the researcher to view and inspect the external and internal structures of an object in 3D space.

Fellow forensic anthropologists “will learn how to perform a pair-matching of bilateral bones via mesh-to-mesh comparisons using 3D image data from my research,” he added.

“This will impact the forensic science community by suggesting a new, objective pair-matching method, which will not only enhance the accuracy of segregation of commingled remains, but also overcome the drawbacks associated with traditional pair-matching methods,” Jeong said.

Jeong’s CT project began in 2020 and remains ongoing.

Originally from Gwangju, South Korea, Jeong earned two degrees from Seoul National University. He received his doctorate from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2014.

Jeong worked three years for the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in its Central Identification Laboratories in Hawaii and Omaha, Nebraska. His mission in Hawaii primarily was to identify skeletal remains of servicemen killed during the Korean War. In Nebraska, it was to ID skeletal remains from servicemen who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor while aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma.

The Kerley Research Award includes $250, a plaque to be awarded next year during the Kerley Foundation/Anthropology section reception and an invitation to speak about the research during the reception.

Jeong plans to submit a newer research project by Aug. 1 to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences for its 2023 event.

Assisted by student researchers

Alumni Omar Ali of Nashville, Tennessee, who is originally from Egypt, and Charlene Sullivan of Manchester, Tennessee, were student research assistants. Junior forensic science major Marcus Luciano of Wayne, New Jersey, currently works with Jeong.

Award-winning researcher and biology assistant professor Yangseung Jeong, standing, and junior forensic science major Marcus Luciano analyze data they’ve collected in an MTSU Science Building research lab. Jeong, who came to MTSU in 2017, is the 2022 Ellis R. Kerley Research Award recipient. It was announced recently by the Ellis R. Kerley Forensic Sciences Foundation. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

Ali graduated magna cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and is working on his Medical College Admissions Test. Sullivan (forensic science degree) will soon start as a clinical lab technician at Eurofins Viracor Laboratory, based in Summit, Missouri.

“My students were eager and ready to learn new techniques and knowledge,” Jeong said. “They significantly contributed to this research by manipulating 3D images and producing the raw data to be statistically analyzed.”

Sullivan, Ali and Luciano are co-authors in the award-winning research along with Jeong’s South Korean colleagues Eun Jin Woo and Yuryang Jang.

Jeong said the Science Building’s technology “provides me with a very secure lab, keeping my data and analyses safe.”

A recruiting tool

Having the Kerley recipient as a faculty member could help entice outstanding young researchers to MTSU.

“Definitely, it helps recruit future student researchers in my lab,” Jeong said. “Actually, some of my students have already talked about my research and this award to their friends and I have had some requests to join my lab.

“… It means MTSU is one of the top forensic science programs not only nationally but internationally. This award can be understood as ‘objective proof’ provided by my peer forensic anthropologists that I have a capacity to perform good work.”

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