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New Imaging Technique ‘Sees’ Crime Clues

November 17, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging
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A new camera can see invisible (to the human eye) bloodstains and other crime-scene clues, according to a group of chemists from the University of South Carolina who developed it.

The camera reads infrared light, capturing hundreds of images, illuminated by infrared pulses, in a few seconds. Various filters allow the camera to read chemical contrast as well as thermal properties and gradients.

The researchers describe the camera and its abilities in a series of three reports (here, here, and here) in the American Chemical Society journal Analytic Chemistry. The camera may have a variety of applications, but, given all of the CSI-type shows on TV, crime-scene analysis will likely get the most attention.

The standard method for detecting minute traces of blood involves luminol, a chemical that reacts with the iron found in hemoglobin. When sprayed across an area, it glows blue for about 30 seconds when it encounters blood residue. Unfortunately, luminol also is toxic, may dilute blood solutions so that DNA analysis cannot be performed, and can produce false positives when it encounters certain other substances, such as copper and some bleaches.

The researchers report that their new camera proved capable of detecting blood residue on fabric that had been diluted as much as 100 times. It also was able to tell the difference between blood and such “interfering agents” as bleach, rust, cherry soda, and coffee. Collecting and analyzing the data took less than two minutes. And, obviously, the camera leaves the residue untouched and untainted.

The researchers suggest that the camera could be most useful for preliminary scans. “These results,” the report concludes, “indicate that this system could be useful for crime scene investigations by focusing nondestructive attention on areas more likely to be suitable for further analysis.”

The device will, no doubt, start showing up soon on the crime shows.

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