SD Mines Researchers Work to Develop Latent Fingerprint and DNA Collection System

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Researchers at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion have received a grant of more than $840,000 from the National Institute of Justice to research the development of a handheld device that will read fingerprints and potentially collect DNA.

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This also could potentially connect via the internet to various fingerprint databases and produce real time results at the scene of the crime.

Researchers at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion have received a grant of more than $840,000 from the National Institute of Justice to research the development of a handheld device that will read fingerprints and potentially collect DNA. The device, which might look like a handheld bar code reader or be attached to a smartphone, uses nanoparticles and infrared light to detect latent fingerprints on surfaces where fingerprint extraction has traditionally been difficult.    

“We’re designing the whole system,” says Bill Cross, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at SD Mines. “This also could potentially connect via the internet to various fingerprint databases and produce real time results at the scene of the crime or back in the forensic lab.”

Traditional development of fingerprints has limitations due to several factors, such as the surface where fingerprints are found. Tools with neon colored handles, for example, don’t work well with some current methods for enhancing fingerprints because the texture and color of the handle can interfere with the chemicals and wavelengths of light used to visualize the fingerprint.

But, new technology developed at the Center for Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology (SPACT) based at SD Mines uses nanoparticles that essentially glow in infrared light. These particles also adhere to fingerprint residue, and once applied they can be detected and read using an infrared light and a sensor. After the detailed fingerprint image is captured, the nanoparticles can be collected and potentially used for DNA testing.

The work at SD Mines is being done in conjunction with the South Dakota State Forensic Lab and researchers at the University of South Dakota, including chemistry professor Stanley May, Ph.D., “At USD, our role focuses on the nanotechnology aspects of the project. We are taking what we have learned from our basic research on these NIR-responsive nanoparticles and optimizing the nanoparticle characteristics to be suitable for the applications of latent fingerprint development and touch-DNA extraction. It is gratifying to be able to translate some of our academic accomplishments into the field of forensic technology with the potential to make a significant impact in law enforcement.”

The National Institute of Justice grant covers three years of research on the project. With success the new technology could evolve into a commercial application available as a new tool to help law enforcement solve crimes.

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