“Every contact leaves a trace…”

By Anna Sandiford 15/08/2010

Or so said Edmond Locard in the 1800s, being one of the best known forensic scientists of history.  His statement Every contact leaves a trace has been a basic tenet of forensic science for many years.  The trick has been whether or not forensic scientists can detect those traces.

Well, it sounds like a new method of detecting a trace could herald a new beginning in fingerprint enhancement.  A team at the University of Leicester’s Forensic Research Centre has developed a method to enhance fingerprint marks from metal surfaces even if the metal surface has seemingly been wiped clean. The advance in fingerprint enhancement apparently works by using heat and humidity on the surfaces on which the fingeprint may be located – that’s it in the article for the scientific detail though.  According to one of the researchers, Alex Goddard, ’Once a finger has touched the metal surface, a residue remains behind, (and) this starts to react with the metal so an image of the fingerprint can then be developed by the use of elevated temperature and humidity, with the resultant image becoming a permanent feature on the surface of the metal.

If this technique really works and is economically viable then it could have a massive impact on criminal casework.  Up until now, recovering fingerprints from metal surfaces such as firearms or projectile cartridges (bullets, to you and me) has been relatively limited.  Time (and how the courts react) will tell…

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