Fingerprints can’t play hide & seek

Here’s a frightening thought: where better to look for the identity of a murderer than on the body of the murder victim? Called Raman spectroscopy, this chilling technique scans the surface of a corpse for even the hint of a fingerprint.

Want to know how it works? Then get a load of this.

When the light scan strikes the surface of the body and bounces off, a small part of it emits a slightly different energy level, or wavelength. The reason this happens? Well the present molecules or atoms at the surface, make the decision to absorb some of the light’s energy, or give some of their energy to it – causing the eventual change. And this girls and boys, they call the Raman effect.

Still with us?

This Raman signal can be used to identify what’s happening to a material at the
molecular level, or to spot specific compounds and elements. People from the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee definitely see the gain in all this.

At the minute they’re fashioning a hand-held Surface-Enhanced-Raman-Spectroscopy (SRES) scanner that will paint a solution of silver nanoparticles onto the body. Because silver has a thing for the Raman signal, the miniscule silver particles stick to the skin secretions that make up a fingerprint. With the SRES scanner, even the faintest fingerprints can’t escape.

Now go off and do something mindless. You’ve earned it.

If this area interests you, you could apply the latest scientific technology to detective work, as:

  • physicist developing forensic techniques using nanoparticles
  • chemist studying the behaviour of different nanoparticles in solution
  • An electronic engineer designing a hand-held scanner that uses Raman spectroscopy
  • programmer writing software to interpret the results from the scanner and translate them into an understandable reading
  • forensic scientist using the latest techniques to gather evidence at crime scenes
  • police officer or detective weighing up the strength of evidence based on new techniques
  • biologist studying the behaviour of nanoparticles in the environment and their effect on living organisms