Thursday, November 29, 2012

New footprint technique: Forensic breakthrough at Abertay University

Researchers at Abertay University in Dundee have developed a revolutionary new technique to help detectives recover “invisible” footprints left at crime scenes. Footprints can be traced in blood, mud, urine and dust, or on fabrics. The new technique captures latent impressions and will help identify perpetrators in instances where DNA or fingerpritns can be recovered. Dr Kevin Farrugia from the university’s biotechnology and forensic sciences division led the new research and last year the university became the first to develop a way to recover fingerprints from fabric. Previous attempts to recover marks left at crime scenes which could not be seen by the naked eye, by enhancing them with chemicals and light, had often destroyed or obliterated the potential prints because the right mix of chemicals had never been formulated. The team developed the world’s first clear and highly detailed images of latent footwear marks left on fabrics. 
Lights set at specific wavelengths, filtered goggles and colourings are used to enhance the “invisible” footprints. It is claimed the technique works on both fresh and old prints. According to Farrugia footwear marks can be made in many contaminants including, blood, mud, urine and dust. They can also be left on all sorts of different fabrics, like cotton or denim, as well as on patterned and dark material, which makes them more difficult to see Someone steps in wet blood will leave wet smudges, so no fine detail from the footwear sole can be recovered. As these marks fade and become less visible, the pattern on the sole of the shoe, by contrast, becomes much clearer and better defined. The new visualisation make it possible to see these latent footwear marks. The research was funded by the Home Office, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of Strathclyde. Dr Farrugia's research was carried out at the University of Strathclyde, under the supervision of Professor Niamh Nic Daéid, where he was awarded his PhD. Dr Farrugia was recently invited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to speak about the techniques he developed at a special impression pattern evidence symposium in Florida. At this symposium experts from all over the world met and discussed the latest research in the recovery and enhancement of impression evidence. He also recently spoke at The International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts (IABPA) conference at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, which was organised by The Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA) Forensic Services division.

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