Vacuum metal deposition: Factors affecting normal and reverse development of latent fingerprints on polyethylene substrates

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Forensic Science International, 2001, 115 (1-2), pp. 73 - 88
Issue Date:
2001-01-01
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Vacuum metal deposition (VMD) is an established technique for the development of latent fingerprints on non-porous surfaces. VMD has advantages over cyanoacrylate fuming, especially in circumstances where prints are old, have been exposed to adverse environmental conditions, or are present on semi-porous surfaces. Under normal circumstances, VMD produces 'negative' prints as zinc deposits onto the background substrate and not the print ridges themselves. A phenomenon of 'reverse' development, when zinc deposits onto the print ridges and not the background, has been reported by many authors but its causes have not been conclusively identified. Four plastic substrates were used in this study and these could be easily divided into two groups based on the types of development observed as the amount of deposited gold was increased. On group I plastics, identified as low-density polyethylene (LDPE), normal development then reverse development and finally no development resulted with increasing gold. On group II plastics, identified as high-density polyethylene (HDPE), normal development then over-development and finally poor-quality normal development resulted with increasing gold. Our results suggest that the difference between these plastic types causes variations in the gold film structure which in turn dictates the nature of the zinc deposition. On group I plastics, the structure and thickness of the gold film has been identified as the critical factor in the occurrence of normal or reverse development. Thin gold films on plastic substrates form small 'clusters' (or agglomerates) rather than the atoms being uniformly spread over the surface. The size and shape of these clusters is critical. Once the clusters reach a certain morphology, they no longer act as nucleation sites for zinc, and hence, zinc will not deposit onto the substrate. On group II plastics, results suggest that the gold clusters are smaller and more densely packed. Hence, even though the same amount of gold has been deposited, the gold clusters in this case do not reach the critical morphology and so continue to act as nucleation sites for zinc. Typically, zinc will not deposit onto the fingerprint ridges as the gold nucleation sites are buried within the print residue. However, when more gold is deposited, gold emerges at the surface of the latent print allowing zinc deposition onto the ridges. The rate of gold evaporation was found not to affect the structure of the gold film, although a slower rate of evaporation resulted in more effective deposition. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.
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