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Partners in life and crime fighting at WVU

Two people stand back to back in front of a white backdrop. One is wearing a light purple jacket. One is wearing a light jacket.

Luis Arroyo and Tatiana Trejos, both researchers in the WVU Department of Forensic and Investigative Science, first met in Costa Rica and arrived on the Morgantown Campus with a little help from destiny. (WVU Photo)

(Editor’s note: This Mountaineer Spotlight is part of WVU Research Week which ends April 5.)

The evidence traces back to the University of Costa Rica. 

That’s where Luis Arroyo, a research assistant, met Tatiana Trejos, who was wrapping up her degree in chemistry. They became close friends, found common interests and fell in love.

That love for each other – and unraveling truth through science – eventually led them from the “world’s happiest country” to the Mountain State.

Arroyo and Trejos are now not only established figures in the Department of Forensic and Investigative Science at West Virginia University, but the global field of forensics. 

“I didn’t believe in destiny until multiple life events led me to believe all things happen for a reason and at the right time,” said Trejos, an associate professor. “Coming to WVU was one of them.

“After getting married, we each had our own exciting jobs, but he (Luis) convinced me to go back to graduate school together. What an adventure. While earning our PhD degrees, we were blessed with two kids, Montse and Tony, and our careers in forensic science have since been one of our driving passions.”

While both are forensic chemists by trade, Arroyo and Trejos have different areas of expertise. Arroyo specializes in drug, environmental and forensic toxicology. Trejos focuses on trace evidence such as fibers, hair and gunshot residue.

The increased prevalence of gun violence, however, has brought the couple together on some research projects. Recently, they worked on a team to establish how organic and inorganic compounds in gunshot residue differ in the ways they each persist on surfaces and transfer to other surfaces during activities like running, hand shaking or washing. Their methods can help investigators make faster, more informed decisions at crime scenes and in the lab.

“That project developed innovative analytical methods to do fast screening of organic and inorganic gunshot residue, which are left behind after the discharge of a firearm,” Trejos said. “The students in our research groups have adapted well to this joint effort and have sparked a very productive research area that has strengthened the international prominence of the WVU Forensic program.”

“The privilege and opportunity to develop a research idea and make it a reality is what motivates me to be a forensic scientist,” said Arroyo, also an associate professor. “Having the opportunity to work with very talented students and seeing how they grow professionally is very inspiring.”

Both Arroyo and Trejos involve students in their research, and the couple have helped elevate the profile of the University’s program, which is one of only a few to offer a PhD in the country.

“I am very proud of what we’ve developed at WVU,” Arroyo said.

Research Arroyo cites as among his proudest include understanding the impact of fentanyl in the life stages of larvae and screening for fake pharmaceutical packaging materials using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy.

“I am passionate about offering solutions to the forensic community by using novel approaches and tools to grow the quality of science and modernize the arsenal of tools that detect drugs of abuse, toxicological investigations or gunshot residues,” Arroyo said.

The couple wound up at WVU after working as researchers at Florida International University.

“We came to the WVU interview with no expectations,” Trejos said. “After meeting with the chair at the time, and the faculty and students, we were impressed with WVU, the forensic program, the WVU pride and the quality of the education provided here.”

That perspective has been adopted by their oldest child, who will begin her career in neuroscience at WVU this fall. Meanwhile, the youngest “may be a good engineer in the future.”

If that happens, it’ll be one happy family devoted to scientific discovery and a love for one another.

Of Trejos, Arroyo said she “has an amazing chirping personality. She has a presence that illuminates the room when she enters.”

“It was not necessarily a love “out of love of forensic science,” Trejos said, “but our love took us to common roads, and we ended up practicing forensic science and growing up together on that career path. Luis is the love of my life.”