One CSIRO scientist who had his house broken into saw a potential for scientific development out of the crime scene that unfolded in his home. Seeing how much the police still relied on fingerprinting, he went on to develop a ground-breaking new crime scene identification technique to help collect criminals’ fingerprints. Rather than the outdated ‘dusting’ method that is ubiquitous in crime shows and murder mysteries, the new technique instead uses a liquid containing tiny crystals. Used on a surface, this liquid can make fingerprints stand out and glow under a UV light.
Using this technique allows investigators to get better images of fingerprints, thanks to the strong contrast created by the luminescent effect. Not only does this allow for easier and more precise analysis, but the technique could also simplify the process of collecting fingerprints when the surface or object is not appropriate for conventional ‘dusting’.
“While police and forensics experts use a range of different techniques, sometimes in complex cases evidence needs to be sent off to a lab where heat and vacuum treatment is applied,” says CSIRO materials scientist Dr Kang Liang. “Our method reduces these steps, and because it’s done on the spot, a digital device could be used at the scene to capture images of the glowing prints to run through the database in real time.”
The process works on a similar concept to traditional dusting, with the tiny crystals binding to proteins, peptides, fatty acids and salts left behind in the fingerprint’s residue. The method has so far been tested on a range of non-porous surfaces such as window and wine glass, metal blades and plastic light switches. “Because it works at a molecular level it’s very precise and lowers the risk of damaging the print,” Dr Liang said.
“As far as we know, it’s the first time that these extremely porous metal organic framework (MOF) crystals have been researched for forensics,” says Dr Liang. The MOF crystals used are both cost and time effective, giving off a bright light for easy identification.
Seeing forensic experts still dusting for prints when his house was broken into was what made Dr Liang wonder how the process could be improved with modern technology. The practice of fingerprint identification has been around for over 100 years, but this new technology could save time and money, as well as allowing for more precise and accurate results.