While the majority of the public is aware of and has a general respect for the role of forensics, the wide range of applications in this field is largely unknown. Due to the rapidly advancing nature of forensic technology, even scientists who work in this industry can find it hard to keep up to date on current trends and emerging forensic techniques that can help solve a case.
Fingerprinting is one of the most well-known areas of forensics, thanks to TV, film, and crime literature. Despite its value and utility in solving a crime, fingerprinting is just one of the many highly specific and sensitive modalities used in forensics today.
Forensic evidence – particularly forensic trace evidence – is an integral component of the criminal justice system. Trace evidence, which can include any small particles left at the scene of the crime by either the victim and/or the perpetrator, can help establish guilt or innocence of possible suspects. Additionally, this evidence can help investigators identify the origins of illicit substances or chemicals associated with a crime.
Trace evidence can be found in different environments, and the nature of the evidence can widely vary. Things like gunshot residue, exogenous chemicals excreted onto fingerprints, lubricants, chemical compounds, blood, hair, and fabrics can all provide insight into how a crime played out, the motives of the crime, and the potential culprit. Paint evidence, another common form of forensics evidence, can also be an important trace component that is rarely discussed in popular culture.
Evidence found on the scene can take a multitude of different forms, which can create complexities within the analytical framework of forensics. Due to the variety of potential evidence analyzed in this field, there now exists a range of techniques and technological platforms available to analyze them and hopefully bring justice to a case.
The majority of techniques utilized in forensics incorporate physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and engineering disciplines. Novel analytical techniques used in a variety of evidence analyses include mass spectrometry (MS), matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization MS imaging, ultraviolet Raman spectroscopy, high-resolution-direct analysis in real time-MS, and 2D gas chromatography (GS) MS, among many others.
Over the past few years, many innovations have been made on these techniques to improve their sensitivity and selectivity for obtaining reliable data from forensic evidence. Overall, this improvement in technology in such a short time has increased the efficiency of identifying a guilty party and excluding innocent bystanders. Further research and advancements are still needed; however, the state of forensic sciences has come far in recent years, which has undoubtedly benefited the productivity of the justice system.
Advancements in fingerprint analysis, for instance, has enabled investigators to identify endogenous and exogenous chemicals in latent fingerprints. Exogenous chemicals, in particular, may help link certain external substances that the culprit used or came into contact with, which can help narrow down the list of potential perpetrators.
Additionally, microbiome analyses of bacterial colonies on the human skin have shown promise in forensics for predicting both the physical traits and lifestyle of a culprit or victim, which can help associate them with trace evidence and the crime scene environment.
Estimation of the post-mortem index (PMI), a measure commonly used in forensics, has also been improved with technology. Nuclear magnetic resonance, GC-MS, and 2D GC-MS are all highly sensitive modalities that can be used to estimate the PMI, which can ultimately help in gaining further insight into a murder case.
Emerging developments in vibrational spectroscopy, including deep ultraviolet resonance Raman and infrared spectroscopy, have supported improvements in the analysis of gunshot residue, another essential form of trace evidence. The use of 3D scanning technologies can assist investigators in the analysis of markings left on a bullet by a weapon. Many of these devices are portable and handheld, which can facilitate rapid on-scene analysis of different types of evidence.
Find out more at Pittcon
At Pittcon Conference and Expo, attendees are guaranteed a comprehensive and informative program consisting of several oral presentations, poster sessions, symposia, short courses, and industry-sponsored demonstrations of emerging and advanced analytical devices for forensic scientists.
New scientific sessions will highlight the role of forensic trace evidence and the techniques currently used to analyze this evidence effectively. Additionally, speakers will discuss the role of various platforms, such as GS-MS and vibrational spectrometry, for analyzing gunshot residue, latent fingerprints, and other evidence left at the crime scene.
Several industry leaders and manufacturers of devices designed to facilitate reliable and rapid assessment of forensic evidence will be in attendance to demonstrate their cutting-edge equipment. Companies including Bruker, Cadre Forensics, ChemImage, Ibsen Photonics, Malvern PANalytical, Ocean Optics, Renishaw, and Tescan Solaris will be onsite at Pittcon to showcase these innovative platforms and will be available to discuss their applications in the forensic sciences.