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Abrasive Blasting for Fingerprint Detection

Friday, June 25, 2021

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According to fourth-year forensic science student from the University of Toronto, Bethany Krebs, a form of abrasive blasting could be more efficient in revealing fingerprints than conventional dusting methods.

Traditionally, fingerprint detection is conducted by using a fine powder on a hard surface, gently brushed away by a small makeup-style brush made of soft camel hair, fiberglass bristles or feathers. The powder used is usually made of aluminum, chalk, bronze, graphite or iron—all of which often contain fluorescence—which attaches to any traces of sweat, oil or other natural skin secretions, leaving a visible fingerprint.

However, in Krebs study, part of an advanced independent project course, has found that blasting an abrasive specialized powder over a surface is a more efficient and economical way to reveal the fingerprints.

“This has the potential to be a viable alternative to detecting fingerprints, particularly with larger crime scenes where there are time and resource constraints,” says Krebs, who is completing a double major in forensics and criminology this spring.

Although opposite of the imperative speed crime investigations tend to pace themselves at, carrying out traditional fingerprint detection requires a more methodical pace as to not damage the prints, especially when conducted over large areas.

University of Toronto

According to fourth-year forensic science student from the University of Toronto, Bethany Krebs, a form of abrasive blasting could be more efficient in revealing fingerprints than conventional dusting methods.

“If you have a large and complicated crime scene, it could take a long time to brush areas for fingerprints,” Krebs continued, “Also, if the brush is too stiff, or you apply too much pressure, or the powder is not uniformly distributed on the brush, it can damage fingerprints.”

With the idea to create a less invasive and more efficient method, Krebs teamed up with forensic identification instructor Wade Knapp and lab technician Agate Gapinska-Serwin. Together, the team collected samples of six substrates commonly found in homes: painted drywall, galvanized steel, treated hardwood, ceramic tile, laminate countertop and glass.

On each surface, Krebs asked friends to leave fingerprints on the substrates, resulting in a total of 144 different markings. From there, Krebs continued her research at the university’s Crime Scene House, a campus facility for practicing forensic science investigation and documentation techniques. Using a gravity-feed sandblasting gun powered by an air compressor, Krebs sprayed a fluorescent yellow cornstarch powder over each sample.

According to the news release, cornstarch is another proven substance for fingerprint development, noted to be both more affordable, readily available than regular fingerprint powder, and less toxic.

“It comes out as a cloud—it’s just settling on the fingerprints rather than being manually applied. It is completely contactless, meaning there is much less potential to damage prints,” Krebs said.

As a result of her method, Krebs reported that her success was 76% effective, having photographed 100 fully developed prints and 10 strongly developed prints. Moving forward, Krebs plans to explore more opportunities in order to formally publish her research.

“Making a difference in the lives of individuals by finding the truth is what motivates me,” Krebs concluded.


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Asia Pacific; Blasting; Colleges and Universities; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Research; Research and development; Surface Preparation; Tools & Equipment; Z-Continents

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