Eberly College of Science

Bob Shaler, founding director of the forensic science program, retires

Robert C. Shaler, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, has retired after having served as the founding director of the Penn State Forensic Science Program since 2005. Shaler is well known for supervising the massive DNA-testing effort to identify thousands of victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, and he is the author of "Who They Were: Inside the World Trade Center DNA Story: The Unprecedented Effort to Identify the Missing."

Throughout his career, Shaler made many important research contributions to the field of forensic science. Most recently, in 2010, he and Penn State colleague Ahklesh Lakhtakia created an innovative process to reveal hard-to-detect fingerprints on nonporous surfaces. Early in his career, he conducted a study on bloodstain evidence that led to the development of a bloodstain-analysis system that was used as the standard in forensic laboratories until the early 1990s.

As a Penn State faculty member, Shaler is known for his strong commitment to teaching solid scientific principles while using engaging classroom techniques. "One of Bob's greatest qualities is his ability to relate to his students," said Mitchell Holland, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and director of Penn State's forensic-science program. "Both students and other faculty members absolutely love him. In fact, we nicknamed him our resident version of Santa Claus." Shaler also has been dedicated to public outreach and education. In 2008, he led a TV show, "Crime Scene University" on the Investigation Discovery Channel, in which students from Penn State and other universities investigated simulated crime scenes. The online version of this course is available through Penn State's World Campus. "The course has become very popular," Holland said. "Students have ranged from the general public to working professionals such as police officers."

In addition to teaching and doing research, Shaler has served as a forensic-science consultant for government agencies and professional organizations. He was a member of the American Bar Association Task Force on Biological Evidence and was an author of a 2009 National Research Council (NRC) report,  "Strengthening the Forensic Sciences -- A Path Forward," published by the National Academy of Sciences. He currently serves on another NRC committee studying the FBI's scientific response to the 2001 anthrax mailings. His other professional activities have included serving on the editorial review board of the American Journal of Forensic Pathology and Medicine and as an invited reviewer for the New England Journal of Medicine. He was a member and the chair of the New York State Crime Laboratory Advisory Committee, and he also has been an expert guest commentator for Court TV.

Prior to joining Penn State, Shaler was an adjunct associate professor of pathology and forensic medicine at the New York University School of Medicine from 1978 to 2005 and an adjunct professor and adjunct associate professor at the City University of New York from 1993 to 1995. From 1990 to 2005, he was director of the Department of Forensic Biology at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City, where he performed and directed forensic biological analyses for all homicide investigations until 2005. From 1987 to 1989, he was director of Forensic-Science Technical Support, Training, and Business Development at Lifecodes Corporation in New York -- the nation's first forensic-DNA laboratory. In addition, Shaler served as director of serology at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City from 1978 to 1986, and director of forensic science at the Aerospace Corporation in Washington, DC, in 1977 and 1978. He worked as a criminalist at the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County Crime Lab from 1970 to 1975, and was a research director there in 1974 and 1975. Shaler held several positions at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was an instructor of forensic chemistry and a research assistant professor of chemistry from 1974 to 1977, a clinical assistant professor from 1973 to 1975, and an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry in the School of Pharmacy from 1970 to 1973.

Shaler earned his master's and doctoral degrees in biochemistry at Penn State in 1966 and 1968, respectively. In 2003, he received an honorary doctoral degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Shaler is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Science, the Northeast Association of Forensic Scientists, and the New Jersey Association of Forensic Scientists.

Shaler's plans for retirement include authoring a textbook, "An Introduction to the Scientific Method in Crime Scene Investigation" (Taylor Francis publishers), and recording audio lessons for the Modern Scholar Series. He will continue to supervise research at Penn State. In addition, he plans to attend regional cooking schools in Mexico and other countries.

Robert C. Shaler, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, has retired after having served as the founding director of the Penn State Forensic Science Program since 2005. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated October 17, 2019