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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Molecule Identification Technique Promises to Identify Presence of Drugs, Explosives in Fingerprints

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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International Herald Tribune’s Fingerprint test tells much more than identity portrays a future with tools CSI has never dreamed of. Desorption Electrospray Ionization, or “Desi” uses mass spectrometry to identify molecules at a previously unheard of level of specificity.

In Cooks’ method, a tiny spray of electrically charged liquid – either water or water and alcohol – is sprayed on a tiny bit of the fingerprint. The droplets dissolve compounds in the fingerprints and splashes them off the surface into the analyzer. The liquid evaporates, and the electrical charge is transferred to the fingerprint molecules, which are then identified through mass spectrometry.

Although most of the ultimate goals of the product lay in medicine, researchers are targeting crime scene forensics as an early market.

Because the spatial resolution is on the order of the width of a human hair, the Desi technique did not just detect the presence of, for instance, cocaine on the surface, but literally showed a pattern of cocaine in the shape of the fingerprint, leaving no doubt who had left the cocaine behind.

The ability to make such strong but ultimately ambiguous inference – possession of a molecular amount of contraband doesn’t say much of anything about knowing or intentional possession, for instance and the costs of implementing the equipment and training investigators and trial experts for its actual use in cases may mean it won’t be seen in courtrooms any time soon. Still the potential is mind boggling.

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Category: science and law, the law bizarre


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