DEGREE AWARDS '08: Chemical Reaction Key To Spiked Drinks
Date posted: 28 December 2007
Exciting research by a forensic science student at the University of Derby could pinpoint the timeframe in which someone’s drink has been spiked.
An independent consultant in the field of forensic science says this sort of research is exciting because it can lead to a whole new line of investigation for the criminal justice agencies to explore.
The news is timely for the festive season as millions of revellers prepare for the party season – but with the threat of drinks being spiked as real as ever.
22-year-old Hilary Bathgate has received First Class Honours in BSc (Hons) Forensic Science for her work at Derby, and received such an outstanding mark that she has qualified to move straight onto a Doctorate degree course at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich.
Julian Love, Programme Leader for Forensic Science at Derby, who previously worked as a forensic scientist at Strathclyde Police, said: “Hilary’s study is of particular importance and interest to the world of forensic science. She is an excellent student who has been recognised for her academic ability by being able to bypass Master’s level and move straight onto her doctorate.
“Hilary has applied a chemistry to detect when the timeframe when the drinks were spiked based on the breakdown of the actual drug. She has taken the time to sit down and work out the equations into a simple formula which could be a huge aid in helping address the issue of spiked drinks.”
Hilary, is from Milnthorpe, in Cumbria, but previously lived in Brough Street, Derby, and now has a term-time address in Norwich. She studied 3Ts for her degree study – Temperature of the drink, Type of drink and Time of the chemical reaction.
In the University laboratories at Kedleston Road, she spiked four drinks: a glass of wine, a vodka and coke, a drink of J20, and a Bacardi Breezer with the drug GHB.
In a drink, the GHB starts to degrade rapidly at first before the degradation slows down and traces of GHB are still present after 21 days. GHB hydrolises into GBL which is its lactone.
By monitoring the levels of GHB changing to GBL in the drinks, she was able to establish an equation to help forensic scientists identify when the drink itself was spiked, within a two-hour time frame.
She said: “I have conducted wider reading in this area and the key development has been being able to help find the timeframe for when a drink may have been spiked using the degradation process.
“The type of alcohol served also plays a part, with the drug degrading more rapidly in certain drinks, such as white wine in comparison to non-alcoholic drinks such as J20.
“I also looked at drinks which were kept at two different temperatures (5°C and 37°C) and it was shown the rate of degradation is much faster at the higher temperature.
“If anyone who feels they have had their drink spiked is able to retain even a sample of the spiked drink for analysis, the equation could be used by forensic scientists to help indicate the time frame for when the drink was spiked, using this chemical formula approach.”
Hilary spent a summer placement at the forensics science company Scientifics in Derby and its Business Manager Analytical, Christopher Harrison said: “Hilary has produced not only an excellent piece of forensic science work but a very good piece of chemistry research based on traditional science. This is extremely encouraging for the future of forensic chemistry.
“The methodology is sound using different types of drinks which will affect the solubility and subsequently the degradation of the GHB and also taking into account the effect of temperature. This type research is exciting because it can lead to a whole new line of investigation which will assist the police and the criminal justice system. I wish Hilary every success for her future.”
Hilary’s PhD at the University of East Anglia is investigating the development and validation of the use of palynology and DNA soil file profiling for forensic, geographical provenancing, but she hopes to retain a research interest in the spiked drinks investigation.
Hilary travels to the University’s Annual Awards Ceremonies on January 19, at the Assembly Rooms, in Derby, to receive her degree, alongside hundreds of other students.
The Forensic Science department also celebrates the achievement of other students at this year’s Awards Ceremonies.
Iris Evans, who graduates with a 2:1 degree, wins the prize for Best Forensic Chemist. She now works as a forensic scientist for Scientifics on London Road in Derby. Iris, 21, from Ashbourne Road, Derby, looked at comparing soil samples to try to match them to the crime scenes which they came from, using a new technique called ion chromatography. Her independent study concluded that a match could indeed be found.
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