Harry Zohn, of Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, is an expert in forensic dentistry—and often summoned to help identify victims at disaster sites.
In 1980, just before entering dental school, Harry Zohn attended a lecture by Simon Wiesenthal, the renowned Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter, who explained that it was crucial to identify dead Nazis in order to focus precious resources on tracking down those who had survived.
The idea—of the importance of identifying the dead—stayed with Zohn for a decade, and in 1990, he enrolled in a forensic dentistry course given by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Today, Zohn, a professor at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, is also a consultant for the Northern Regional Medical Examiner Office in Newark, New Jersey, and a member of the federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams, using his forensics skills to help identify the dead in criminal cases, assist in civil litigation, and help families find closure when postmortem visual identification isn’t possible.
He was on hand to identify the victims of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and the 2009 crash of a Continental Airlines flight that killed 50 passengers near Buffalo, New York. On average, he’s summoned to the medical examiner’s office once a month to assist in postmortem identifications or to help track or identify a suspect through bite marks on a victim.
Each year, he passes along his forensic knowledge to an enthusiastic group of Rutgers dental students in a highly popular two-part class. In the first part, students hear a variety of speakers from the world of dental forensics. In the second, they work hands-on in the medical examiner’s office in Newark—a rare privilege. “As far as I know,” Zohn says, “it’s the only course of its kind offered to dental students in North America.”