As she watched the Black Lives Matter protests unfold in 2020, Britania Walters ’22, a student in the Program for Research Initiatives in Science and Math (PRISM), was disturbed by law enforcement’s crowd control methods. “They were using what’s called ‘less-lethal ammunition’ to keep the crowd under control, but protesters hit by this ammunition were emerging from the scene with real injuries,” explains Walters, a forensic science major originally from Jamaica. “Injuries sustained by protestors included contusions, lacerations, bruising, sprains, bone fractures, and even brain injury.”
Curious about possible alternatives, she decided to research physical trauma caused by less-lethal ammunition and its potential substitutes. Working with her mentor, Professor Peter Diaczuk, Ph.D., she says, “Professor Diaczuk is an expert in the field and has conducted research on weapons, bullets, and ballistics. What has been so powerful for me is that he listens to my ideas and really supports me.”
Walters gathered data via local news articles, then she and Diaczuk identified the weapons and ammunition used and how differences in design strengthened or lessened the ammunition’s impact. Next, they’ll investigate variables that can change the outcome—the angle at which the less-lethal ammunition is shot, the distance between the shooter and the target, and where the ammunition hits the body.
Walters hopes their research, which earned her the Peter R. De Forest Student Research Competition Undergraduate Award from the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists, not only results in safer and truly less-lethal ammunition, but also propels her to advanced degrees. “I want to go to graduate school to earn my M.A. and then my Ph.D.,” says Walters. “I hope to be a leader in the field like Professor Diaczuk.”