AWARDS '09: Has Mark Put A Finger On Faster Forensics?

Kedleston Road campus 504x257 AWARDS '09: Has Mark Put A Finger On Faster Forensics?

Date posted: 24 December 2008

Criminal investigations could be speeded up thanks to a forensic science breakthrough being developed by a University of Derby student.

Mark Burgess has discovered a unique approach to develop fingerprints using a sputter coater to coat items.

Sputter coaters are usually used to coat specimens prior to placing them in a scanning electron microscope which can develop magnifications up to 200,000 times.

Sputter coaters are in wider circulation than the traditional and more expensive Vacuum Metal Deposition (VMD) equipment currently used to develop some latent finger print samples.

Mark said: “This is a new technique which is already gathering interest within the forensic science world.

“Police forces may use the microscope for tests such as analysing gun pellets, but could also use it to develop and enhance finger prints which need further observation, perhaps because they have been exposed to environmental elements such as weather.

“In comparison, only about 20 police forces have a VMD machine, so for major crimes, samples often have to be couriered to another force or forensic service providers for analysis. This can take extra time to process.”

Vacuum Metal Deposition is used to develop marks on non porous items that may have been wet or damp. Due to the cost, only a small number of forces have the equipment to do this. The sputter coater develops marks in a similar way but at a fraction of the cost.

Mark’s approach appears to be cheaper and just as accurate as using a Vacuum Metal Deposition approach. A VMD costs in the region of £100,000 to £125,000 where as a scanning electron microscope is just £8,000.

Karen Stow, Scientific Support Manager for Derbyshire Constabulary, said: “The technique certainly has promise and from the initial study it appears to perform on a par with the VMD. In the current financial climate it is important that we take advantage of more cost effective techniques such as this.”

Mark, 30, of Eastwood, Derbyshire, received the top marks in his subject area and graduates with First Class Honours at the University’s Awards Ceremonies on January 23 at the Assembly Rooms in Derby.

He has recently presented his findings to the Finger Print Society, a national organisation with representatives from more than 40 police forces and 26 overseas forces on its roll, looking to develop best practice in the industry. The presentation at Derbyshire Constabulary’s Ripley headquarters, impressed the society and he is now looking for support to take his work forward.

Mark’s project explored the possibility of using a sputter coater designed for coating specimens prior to examination with the scanning electron microscope – to develop latent finger prints. Many universities – including Derby – own scanning electron microscopes.

As part of his final dissertation, Mark wanted to find out if this machine could produce results as reliable as the VMD machine.

In controlled conditions, he set up 40 glass slides, each containing a fingerprint, coated in carbon and gold under set concentrations. This produced 40 individual slides each containing individual fingerprints.

The ridge detail on each slide was then compared with ink developed fingerprints containing 16 unique features. This resulted in 30 per cent of the index finger prints containing 12-16 features, 60 per cent of the middle finger, 80 per cent of the ring finger and 10 per cent of the little finger.

His tutor at Derby, Julian Love, Programme Leader for forensic science at Derby, used to work in the forensic science department at Strathclyde Police and was excited by the possibilities of the research.

Fellow lecturer Dr Ian Turner, added: “Mark’s project shows both the importance of undergraduate research to the University and potentially the police and that hard work can lead to great success for the student.”


For more information about this news release, contact Deputy Head of Corporate Relations Simon Redfern on 01332 591942 or 07748 920038.

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