White collar crims burnt by extreme fingerprinting

Aussie technology speeds up corporate crime investigations.

A captured fingerprint. Photo credit: UTS

A captured fingerprint. Photo credit: UTS

Corporate crime scenes could be cleaned up in minutes, not hours, thanks to locally developed technology that uses extreme heat to reveal fingerprints.

The world first system, developed by two honours students from the University of Technology, Sydney, uses short bursts of extreme heat to uncover fingerprints on paper documents, removing the need for laborious testing with toxic chemicals.

The students, Adam Brown and Daniel Sommerville, said the technology could be used in portable fingerprint imaging devices directly at the crime scene.

UTS science faculty senior lecturer Dr Brian Reedy, who oversaw the project, said the technology can process many more documents than is possible using chemical solutions.

“Nobody wants to sort through hundreds of pages of documents to find fingerprints; it’s just not worth their time. But if they had a mobile device where they could simply throw documents through, similar to a photocopier, then many more results would be produced,” Dr Reedy said.

“If you heat the fingerprint for more than a few seconds you get a scorch mark, which is actually the fingerprint. You can improve the contrast of the scorch mark by placing it under an Ultraviolet light.”

“The safety requirements for using standard practice chemicals in police labs has made the process very expensive,” he said, adding the existing fingerprinting technology is also labour intensive and time consuming.

Brown and Sommerville discovered the technique by accident when researching new reagents to produce colour fingerprints.

Fingerprints are reveled by exposing paper to bursts of heat up to 300 degrees Celsius for 10 to 20 seconds, with development taking between 5 and 20 seconds.

Reedy said the process is comparable to using a blowtorch, adding “you could almost do this at home with a toaster”.

A patent application has been lodged and Foster & Freeman, a company that develops scientific instruments for police and forensic laboratories worldwide, has purchased the license.

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Kathryn Edwards

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