ISU Students and Staff Make Groundbreaking Discovery That Could Impact Criminal Investigations

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AMES, Iowa– Students and staff at Iowa State University have made a groundbreaking discovery with fingerprints that could make a major impact in criminal investigations. Former grad student, Paige Hinners and her professor, Dr. Young Jin Lee have been studying fingerprints for a few years now. However it wasn’t until last February that Hinners discovered how to age fingerprints to tell when and for how long a person was at the scene of a crime. 

“A suspect could potentially say oh no I was at their house, a week previous, and we would be able to say all your fingerprint was three days old, the crime was three days old, so therefore you were also there on the day of the crime,” Hinners said. 

To do this Hinners said they inject a quarter of a fingerprint into a spectrometer that breaks the print apart with a laser beam. The spectrometer is able to measure the levels of fatty oils known as triglycerides. Hinners found that by tracking the degradation of triglycerides, one could determine how long that fingerprint has been on the surface. ISU professor, Dr. Young Jin Lee said they hope this transforms the criminal justice system. 

We want to make sure this tool  can be used to save those people who are innocent, at the same time to find people who are really responsible,” Dr. Young Jin Lee said. 

The Iowa State chemists’ work was recently published online by the research journal,  Analytical Chemistry. ISU has also received a grant for over a half a million dollars from the National Institute of Justice to study over a hundred more fingerprints before this tool can be used in criminal courts. Dr. Young Jin Lee anticipates that this will help advance the technology used in political science. 

“It is still far behind as far as technology and the new technology will hopefully shine a light and to get more justice in our country,” Dr. Lee said. 

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