Thermal development of latent fingermarks on porous surfaces-Further observations and refinements

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Journal Article
Forensic Science International, 2011, 204 (1-3), pp. 97 - 110
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In a further study of the thermal development of fingermarks on paper and similar surfaces, it is demonstrated that direct contact heating of the substrate using coated or ceramic surfaces at temperatures in excess of 230 °C produces results superior to those obtained using hot air. Fingermarks can also be developed in this way on other cellulose-based substrates such as wood and cotton fabric, though ridge detail is difficult to obtain in the latter case. Fluorescence spectroscopy indicates that the phenomena observed during the thermal development of fingermarks can be reproduced simply by heating untreated white copy paper or filter paper, or these papers treated with solutions of sodium chloride or alanine. There is no evidence to suggest that the observed fluorescence of fingermarks heated on paper is due to a reaction of fingermark constituents on or with the paper. Instead, we maintain that the ridge contrast observed first as fluorescence, and later as brown charring, is simply an acceleration of the thermal degradation of the paper. Thermal degradation of cellulose, a major constituent of paper and wood, is known to give rise to a fluorescent product if sufficient oxygen is available [1-5]. However, the absence of atmospheric oxygen has only a slight effect on the thermal development of fingermarks, indicating that there is sufficient oxygen already present in paper to allow the formation of the fluorescent and charred products. In a depletion study comparing thermal development of fingermarks on paper with development using ninhydrin, the thermal technique was found to be as sensitive as ninhydrin for six out of seven donors. When thermal development was used in sequence with ninhydrin and DFO, it was found that only fingermarks that had been developed to the fluorescent stage (a few seconds of heating) could subsequently be developed with the other reagents. In the reverse sequence, no useful further development was noted for fingermarks that were treated thermally after having been developed with ninhydrin or DFO. Aged fingermarks, including marks from 1-year-old university examination papers were successfully developed using the thermal technique. © 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
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