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Fingerprint Testing Gets Major Australian Breakthrough

A break-in at his home was the inspiration for an Australian researcher to pioneer a new technique for fingerprinting crime scenes.

The new technique makes fingerprints glow under UV light, after a drop of liquid containing crystals is applied to the surface. It's thanks to the CSIRO -- no, that's not a new spin-off of the American crime scene show -- and a burglary at the home of their materials scientist, Dr Kang Liang.

Liang has spent time at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation investigating new methods of fingerprinting crime scenes.

"When my house was broken into, I saw how common a practice fingerprinting is for police," Liang said.

"I came home after a long day at work... drawers were wide open with stuff spilling out... some of my favourite things were missing. The police dusted the area for fingerprints but didn't find anything. It got me thinking, what if I could apply some of the special materials I'd been working with in the lab to come up with a new potentially better fingerprint technique?"

Using fingerprints as identification has been traced as far back at 1750BC Babylon, but it wasn't until the late 1800s and early 1900s the practice became widespread. Dusting for fingerprints was a common technique for fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, even before the practice became for common real-life detectives, but the Australian advance is far removed from tipping ink onto a print and lifting it up with tape.

The study, published on Tuesday in the Advanced Materials journal, "shows that tiny crystals rapidly bind to fingerprint residue, including proteins, peptides, fatty acids and salts, creating an ultrathin coating that's an exact replica of the pattern," according to the CSIRO.

"Because it works at a molecular level it's very precise and lowers the risk of damaging the print," Liang said.

"While police and forensics experts use a range of different techniques, sometimes in complex cases evidence needs to be sent off to a lab where heat and vacuum treatment is applied. Our method reduces these steps, and because it's done on the spot, a digital device could be used at the scene to capture images of the glowing prints to run through the database in real time."

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