Research has potential to revolutionise fingerprint forensics

Forensic researchers at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are investigating environmentally-friendly ways of developing fingerprints which could revolutionise worldwide forensic technology.

DMU-based fingerprint researcher, Dr Kevin Farrugia, is working with West Technology Forensics in Bristol to develop solvent-less applications of fingerprint enhancement methods and assess its effectiveness against currently recommended methods used by forensic teams.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “The potential for its impact in the forensic community is huge.”

Contrary to general belief, fingerprint evidence accounts for more identifications than DNA evidence. Governments around the world (including the UK and EU) are considering restricting or banning certain chemicals and solvents used in fingerprint detection methods due to the environmental concerns and their effect on global warming.

Kevin FarrugiaINSET

Recently 3M, the only company that produces the main carrier solvent used for the detection of fingerprints on porous surfaces (such as paper), has announced that it will stop manufacturing and phase out the solvent, known as HFE7100, by the end of 2025. This creates further urgency for research into alternatives that are solvent-less and  environmentally-friendly.  

The new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) will see Dr Farrugia work with West Technology to develop these new methods and applications; however, they must be thoroughly assessed against currently used standards following guidelines by the UK Home Office and the International Fingerprint Research Group. A KTP Associate will be appointed to work on the project alongside Dr Farrugia, and will be based in Bristol. The job advert for the role has gone live this week.

The three-year project, worth £300,000, has been funded by Innovate UK with support from West Technology. Incorporating financial support from Innovate UK, KTPs aim to help businesses innovate by connecting businesses to partners, customers and investors that can help them turn ideas into commercially successful products and services.

Dr Farrugia said: “This will be a dedicated piece of work to develop solvent-less applications and methods for the detection of fingerprints.  It has a lot of potential and I cannot wait to get started. It would be a significant step forward for the forensic community.”

West Technology Forensics has manufactured Vacuum Metal Deposition (VMD) systems for the forensic community for more than 20 years now and has gained the reputation as being the world leading manufacturer of this technology. West Technology not only manufactures VMD systems, it also has a commitment in carrying out research on the VMD process both at its own facility and working with academic institutions in the UK.

Ian Harris, Managing Director of West Technology said: “We are absolutely delighted to be working with Dr Farrugia on a new technique to develop fingerprint evidence for the forensic science community. We want to ensure that forensic scientists world-wide will have the tools available to carry out their work effectively in the future, when the currently used chemicals are no longer available to them. I am both excited and confident that we can deliver on our mission to achieve a successful outcome”
DMU Knowledge Exchange officer Darsh Chauhan said: "This is a really innovative and exciting project that is allowing DMU expertise to support West Technology Forensics to develop their services to  address  environmental, legislative and commercial challenges. This project will allow West Technology Forensics to trial and test using world class universities facilities to become a sector leader."
Posted on Thursday 4 May 2023

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