Police in the UK may soon be using fingerprint samples for a lot more than matching against criminal databases thanks to mass spectrometry.
The biophysical technique revolves around breaking down the molecular components of a given fingerprint sample. A fingerprint can contain all kinds of trace compounds, and mass spectrometry analyzes them by measuring the masses of each tiny particle found in a sample, allowing it to point out specific molecules related to things like blood and food.
It can also detect trace amounts of drugs like cocaine—with researchers at the University of Surrey having recently announced a system for determining whether a given subject has recently used cocaine, just by analyzing their fingerprint. But, as the BBC reports, a team from Sheffield Hallam University has undertaken an even more ambitious project, working with West Yorkshire Police to see how mass spectrometry could be used to detect traces of everything from drugs to hair gel to alcohol to condoms from a given fingerprint. Their technique was even able to detect blood in a 30-year-old fingerprint sample, suggesting that it could be applied across cases old and new.
With the technique able to determine whether a trace of blood belongs to a man or a woman, and even the specific brand of a trace of lubricant, police authorities are keen to explore its potential as an investigative tool, with the UK’s Home Office has reportedly already invested £80,000 in funding the research. Speaking to the BBC, a Home Office official said they could be “only months away” from real-world deployments of the mass spectrometry technique.
Originally published at BBC UK