New Fingerprint Detection Technology

Fingerprint Breakthrough Could Solve Cold Cases

Blue Fingerprint Image
Imaging Techniques Enhance Fingerprints. © Getty Images

In an era of advanced DNA technology, fingerprint evidence may be considered old school forensics, but it's not as outdated as some criminals may think.

Advanced fingerprinting technology now makes developing, collecting, and identifying fingerprint evidence easier and quicker. In some cases, even trying to wipe fingerprints clean from a crime scene may not work.

Not only has the technology for collecting fingerprint evidence improved, but the technology used to match fingerprints to those in the existing database has been significantly improved.

Advance Fingerprint Identification Technology

In 2011, the FBI launched its Advance Fingerprint Identification Technology (AFIT) system which enhanced fingerprint and latent print processing services. The system increased the accuracy and daily processing capacity of the agency and also improved the system's availability.

The AFIT system implemented a new fingerprint matching algorithm which increased the accuracy of fingerprint matching from 92% to more than 99.6%, according to the FBI. During the first five days of operation, AFIT matched more than 900 fingerprints that were not matched using the old system.

With AFIT on board, the agency has been able to reduce the number of required manual fingerprint reviews by 90%.

Prints From Metal Objects

In 2008, scientists at the University of Leicester in Great Britain developed a technique that will enhance fingerprints on metal objects from small shell casings to large machine guns.

They found that chemical deposits that form fingerprints have electrical insulating characteristics, which can block electric current even if the fingerprint material is very thin, only nanometers thick.

By using electric currents to deposit a colored electro-active film which shows up in the bare regions between the fingerprint deposits, researchers can create a negative image of the print in what is known as an electrochromic image.

According to the Leicester forensic scientists, this method is so sensitive it can even detect fingerprints from metal objects even if they have been wiped off or even washed off with soapy water.

Color-Changing Florescent Film

Since 2008, Professor Robert Hillman and his Leicester associates have further enhanced their process by adding fluorophore molecules to the film which is sensitive to light and ultra-violet rays.

Basically, the fluorescent film gives scientist and extra tool in developing contrasting colors of latent fingerprints - electrochromic and fluorescence. The fluorescent film provides a third color that can be adjusted to develop a high-contrast fingerprint image.

Micro-X-Ray Florescence

The development of the Leicester process followed a 2005 discovery by University of California scientists working at Los Alamos National Laboratory using micro-X-ray fluorescence, or MXRF, to develop fingerprint imaging.

MXRF detects the sodium, potassium and chlorine elements present in salts, as well as many other elements if they are present in the fingerprints. The elements are detected as a function of their location on a surface, making it possible to "see" a fingerprint where the salts have been deposited in the patterns of fingerprints, the lines called friction ridges by forensic scientists.

MXRF actually detects the sodium, potassium and chlorine elements present in those salts, as well as many other elements, if they are present in the fingerprints. The elements are detected as a function of their location on a surface, making it possible to "see" a fingerprint where the salts have been deposited in the patterns of fingerprints, the lines called friction ridges by forensic scientists.

Noninvasive Procedure

The technique has several advantages over traditional fingerprint detection methods that involve treating the suspect area with powders, liquids, or vapors in order to add color to the fingerprint so that it can be easily seen and photographed.

Using traditional fingerprint contrast enhancement, it is sometimes difficult to detect fingerprints present on certain substances, such as multicolored backgrounds, fibrous papers and textiles, wood, leather, plastic, adhesives and human skin.

The MXRF technique eliminates that problem and is noninvasive, meaning a fingerprint analyzed by the method is left pristine for examination by other methods like DNA extraction.

Los Alamos scientist Christopher Worley said MXRF is not a panacea for detecting all fingerprints since some fingerprints will not contain enough detectable elements to be "seen". However, it is envisioned as a viable companion to the use of traditional contrast enhancement techniques at crime scenes, since it does not require any chemical treatment steps, which are not only time consuming but can permanently alter the evidence.

Forensic Science Advances

While many advances have been made in the field of forensic DNA evidence, science continues to make progress in the field of fingerprinting development and collection, making it increasing more probably that should a criminal leave behind any evidence at all at the crime scene, he will be identified.

New fingerprint technology has increased the likelihood of investigators developing evidence that will withstand challenges in court.

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "New Fingerprint Detection Technology." ThoughtCo, Apr. 22, 2017, thoughtco.com/new-fingerprint-detection-technology-971343. Montaldo, Charles. (2017, April 22). New Fingerprint Detection Technology. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/new-fingerprint-detection-technology-971343 Montaldo, Charles. "New Fingerprint Detection Technology." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/new-fingerprint-detection-technology-971343 (accessed October 19, 2017).